TOKYO -- Mitsubishi Motors Corp. has formally recalled its i-MiEV electric vehicle in Japan, possibly paving the way for a similar callback in the United States.
Sales and production of the pint-sized EV, along with the Outlander plug-in hybrid crossover sold only in Japan, have been halted since a manufacturing glitch caused one of their lithium ion battery packs to melt and another to catch fire in March.
Mitsubishi will recall more than 4,000 vehicles with the potentially faulty batteries in Japan starting midmonth, the company said today. A small number of affected i-MiEVs were sold in Europe and the United States.
"We are preparing appropriate measures for markets outside Japan, but this is not the appropriate time to give details," spokeswoman Namie Koketsu said.
Mitsubishi said in April it had contacted drivers in the United States about the problem.
Mitsubishi ironed out a manufacturing fix last month that will prevent the defects. The new process will churn out replacement batteries for the cars being recalled, Koketsu said.
The Japanese carmaker aims to resume production of new i-MiEVs and Outlander plug-in hybrids by the end of August, after the recalled vehicles are fixed.
That should return the Outlander to production before its planned U.S. launch next year.
The batteries were prone to short-circuiting for two reasons.
In some instances, workers dropped the batteries, causing parts of the battery cells to break off and contaminate the cells. In other cases, a screening process applied excessive force to the batteries, which also caused internal damage to the cells.
The battery supplier, Lithium Energy Japan, verified fixes for both problems last month.
The company reduced steps in which the batteries were carried by hand and switched its screening process to avoid wear and tear on the cells. It also introduced additional video surveillance of the assembly line to double check for quality gaps.
In Japan, Mitsubishi recalled 4,313 Outlander plug-in hybrids that potentially have the defective batteries, as well as 17 i-MiEVs and 98 Minicab i-MiEVs, a electric commercial minivan.
Mitsubishi said earlier that about 50 i-MiEVs were affected overseas, including in the United States and Europe. Mitsubishi did not break down overseas numbers but said most of the i-MiEVs were in Europe, where it is also sold as the Peugeot iOn and Citroen C-Zero.
Mitsubishi's announcement that it had found the problem came just a day after it recalled the Outlander plug-in hybrid in Japan for separate problems with its driver motors.
That callback affected 3,839 units. The problem was traced to software that controls the drive motors and possible glitches in the gasoline-electric vehicle's generator.
Setback to plans
The snags are a blow to Mitsubishi, which is positioning electrified vehicles at the center of a push to rebrand itself as an eco-car leader. They also are a setback for the Outlander plug-in hybrid, which had enjoyed brisk sales in Japan and is the first vehicle showcasing Mitsubishi's new hybrid technology.
The battery problems evoke those of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which had its global fleet grounded because of overheating lithium ion batteries. The Boeing and the Mitsubishi battery packs trace their origins to the same supplier.
Mitsubishi's were made by Lithium Energy Japan, a joint venture with Japanese battery maker GS Yuasa Corp. Boeing's batteries were made directly by GS Yuasa. The batteries were made at different plants and have different materials and designs.