PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -- Mitsubishi, which already plans to import its i-MiEV electric minicar, is considering giving U.S. dealers a gasoline version of the little car.
The four-passenger car would compete against the Smart minicar. The Smart is imported from Europe, where Daimler AG builds it using a Mitsubishi engine.
The gasoline-powered Mitsubishi i already sells in Japan and Europe with a small turbocharged 660cc gasoline engine -- a powerplant smaller than those in many American motorcycles.
The gasoline engine probably would be replaced with a 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine without turbocharging for the United States, says John Koenig, executive vice president for operations at Mitsubishi Motors North America.
The Smart has the same 1.0-liter Mitsubishi engine.
The i is just 133.7 inches long --about 2 feet longer than the Smart ForTwo -- and 5 feet 3 inches high. The i is surprisingly roomy, even for adults in the back seat.
Koenig estimates that a sales plan of 1,000 cars a month probably would be enough to sway Mitsubishi to re-engineer the minicar for U.S. customers. The expense of creating a left-hand-drive version of the i already has been covered for its introduction into Europe, where it sells for about $16,000.
Mitsubishi showed both the gasoline and electric versions of the car to journalists here last week.
The automaker will introduce its global electric car, the i-MiEV, to U.S. dealers in approximately 18 months.