TOKYO -- Mitsubishi Motors Corp. is discussing exporting its new i minicar, at least to right-hand-drive markets, Mitsubishi President Osamu Masuko says.
The i went on sale in Japan on Jan. 24 as a minicar with a 660cc, turbocharged engine. For overseas markets, the car could be equipped with a 1.0-liter, turbocharged engine.
Right-hand-drive markets could include Great Britain, Singapore and Hong Kong, among others.
The i initially was envisioned as a complement to, and possibly a member of, the Smart lineup. Its status was frozen and reviewed twice after its initial approval because of DaimlerChrysler AG's pullout from its alliance with Mitsubishi, Tetsuro Aikawa says. He is Mitsubishi's managing director in charge of product development and environment affairs.
Exporting the i to Europe would be difficult because of European automakers' cost edge in the minicar or A segment, Aikawa says. Building the car at Mitsubishi's NedCar plant "would reduce the investment cost," he says, but "we have to do more studies."
Mitsubishi has struggled to fill its NedCar plant in the Netherlands. Although sales of the Colt built there have finally edged up to reasonable levels, weak sales of the Smart ForFour have kept the plant operating well below capacity.
The i uses a new platform that places the engine just in front of the rear axle line. That increases the car's crumple zone in the front and adds more head and knee room in the back seat. It also allows the front tires to turn at a wider angle. That gives the car a turning radius of just 177 inches.
Aikawa says he expects the car's life cycle to be six years. An SUV-like derivative off the platform will follow.
Prices for the Japan-market version start at 1,281,000 yen or $11,142.
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