TOKYO — Mitsubishi Motors Corp. may launch an electric vehicle powered by a lithium ion battery in Japan as early as 2009.
The company's schedule calls for debuting the car, called the i MiEV, in 2010. But CEO Osamu Masuko said it may be ready for a 2009 debut.
"We are making preparations at the moment to accelerate" the on-sale date, Masuko said in an interview with Automotive News.
After Japan, he said, Mitsubishi will produce left-hand-drive versions for Europe and possibly the United States. Masuko expects the car to sell well in large urban areas.
"This is very exciting," he said. "Once we complete the electric vehicle, we will start work on a plug-in model."
He gave no date for introducing a plug-in version.
The i MiEV, which seats four adults, is based on the i car, a popular and spacious subcompact sedan sold in Japan. The electric version uses the same basic layout as the i car, which has the engine beneath the rear seat.
The 64-hp electric motor, made by Meiden, is in the rear of the car. The lithium ion batteries, developed by Mitsubishi and Yuasa Batteries Inc., are under the floor.
The i MiEV can travel about 100 miles on a single charge. In Japan, the top speed will be limited to about 80 mph. The car could go as fast as 90 to 95 mph in Europe and the United States.
Masuko said the biggest obstacle is the cost of the battery. Another hurdle in the United States is the lack of an infrastructure for charging the vehicle.
"Europe has advantages because they have the infrastructure," he said. "It will be difficult (in the United States) unless the government cooperates."
Masuko said the car can be fully charged in about 30 minutes at electrical charging stations in Tokyo.
Masuko hopes to price the car at 2.5 million or less than $25,000. He thinks that about 1,000 units can be sold in Japan the first year.
Mitsubishi showed an i MiEV coupe as a concept car at the Tokyo show. But Masuko said there are no firm plans to produce the coupe, called i MiEV Sport.