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Mitsubishi charge ahead with i MiEV; Electric car on sale by the end of the year in Britain cover story.

BRITAIN'S first electric car from a mainstream manufacturer is set to be on sale before the year's out - and it's going to cause a shock.

Mitsubishi is out to steal a march on the likes of Mercedes and Chevrolet by bringing its zero emission i MiEV city car to the UK ahead of the rest.

The Japanese car maker is ramping up production of its electric car in the next few months as being green is how to be seen in Tokyo and the company's British importer is planning to have 200 on the streets before 2010.

But they won't be cheap. While most of the first batch will be used in 'green fleet' trials, a few will be available to buy at an expected price of around pounds 20,000.

That's more than double the cost of the Mitsubishi i car on which the high-tech i MiEV is based.

However the real attraction of becoming an eco crusader is not just saving the planet by having a car which produces no CO2 or any other pollutant. They're a bargain to run.

Mitsubishi says the i MiEV - it stands for Mitsubishi Innovative Electric Vehicle - will cost only about pounds 45 to run over 10,000 miles compared to the pounds 1,000 it costs to fuel the average diesel hatchback every year.

On top of that there is no tax to pay, meaning the driver of an electric car is saving some 95 per cent of their annual running costs.

Market forces will bring prices down eventually and the quirky looks of the i car are all part of the environmental image.

The drawback is range and the i MiEV is capable of only 80 to 90 miles between charges but that's more than enough for most people's daily commute or use around town.

Hook it up to the mains overnight and it takes six hours for a full recharge. A 'fast charge' can be achieved in less than half an hour, powering the batteries up to 80 per cent capacity.

For those with a garage or driveway that should be no problem but for motorists who have to park in the street there is still work to be done.

What is impressive about the i MiEV is how it performs. There is an obvious benefit of taking a tried and tested model and replacing the petrol engine with an electric motor.

The Mitsubishi i is similar in size to a MINI but is a five-door, can seat four adults in some comfort and has supermini-sized boot of 246 litres. So does the electric version as the battery packs are slung underneath not to impinge on any interior space.

The 88 batteries, packed into 22 modules, weigh 200 kilos which reduce the car's centre of gravity to a point that it really handles.

Electric motors produce huge amounts of torque and the i MiEV accelerates from 0 to 60mph in less than 13 seconds and has a top speed of 87mph.

The engine is 330 volt and develops 47KW, equivalent to 63bhp. On the road it's very lively to drive.

Acceleration from standstill is brisk and it can hold its own on dual carriageways with little tail off as speed rises.

What is weird is the sound - or lack of it. There is a faint hum from under the bonnet which rises under acceleration. Other than that all you get is wind and road rumble.

The i MiEV has an auto gearbox which actually feels as if it is just one long gear. As well as park, drive and reverse there are additional gear settings to increase range and boost battery recharge under braking.

An eco setting drops the power of the engine to 18KW which is appropriate in city traffic and ekes out battery life.

Around the speedo there is a battery level indicator while the rev counter is replaced with a display showing if the battery is discharging or recharging.

Other than that it is utterly conventional inside and the car is fitted with air conditioning, radio, CD player and the like.

What is surprising is the i MiEV is genuinely fun to drive. Not once in the test drive around Oxford did it leave you feeling vulnerable or 'range anxious' as it has been called.

Oxford is the backdrop for the Morse TV series but in the i MiEV the feeling was this was the beginning of a different code.

Mitsubishi says it intends to guarantee the batteries for 10 years and the car will have an expected ten year or 93,600 mile (150,000 kilometre) warranty. Insurance ratings are still to be determined, but could be relatively high, reflecting the cost of the technology.

With Gordon Brown having said all cars in Britain should be electric or hybrid by 2020 and Boris Johnson pledging to use a fleet of 'EVs' for the London Olympics, this is a generation of cars waiting in the wings.

MINI and smart have electric car trials under way, small brands such as GWizz have little 2+2s on the market selling mainly in London, while Mercedes and Chevrolet have announced they will be putting electric or electric hybrids into production next year.

With the big boys getting in on the act supported by their large dealer networks and service centres, it cannot be long before an electric revolution is charging everywhere.

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BATTERY POWER: The Mitsubishi i MiEV is quiet on the road and handles surprisingly well
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 13, 2009
Words:918
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