I went driving last week in the least-expensive all-electric car on the market today – that would be the 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV.
The little electric four-seater with the funny name is smaller yet more expensive than subcompacts such as the Hyundai Accent and the Ford Fiesta, but the i-MiEV price is getting closer to the point where an all-electric might actually start to sell in reasonable quantities.
If you get the maximum government rebate in provinces like Ontario and Quebec, and negotiate hard with the dealer, you should be able to drive away in one for about $22,000 plus tax. That's still a hefty premium over gasoline-powered subcompacts but you'll never have to take this one near a gas pump. If you plug your i-MiEV in at night, you'll get enough juice to go about 100 kilometres for a buck and a half.
If they could only sell these things for $15,000 a copy, a lot of urban commuters would be seriously tempted. It's the lithium batteries that cost so much. Everything else in the little car is dirt cheap to mass-manufacture.
The i-MiEV has skinny little tires and is about as long as your kitchen table but has comfortable seating and is surprisingly roomy. It goes like a jackrabbit when you stab the accelerator and feels nimble. Great braking stops the vehicle quickly and also produces more juice for the big battery, which is sandwiched under the floor. Its silent electric motor produces 66 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque. You breeze along through traffic vibration- and emission-free. It is actually fun to drive.
There was a mood of near-euphoria about the potential for electric cars when the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf were about to be launched a couple of years ago. Now, with the disappointing early sales numbers, it's all doom and gloom. But these EVs are are being developed because it's the only way manufacturers are going to be able to hit the fleet fuel economy numbers that are coming down the pike.
It's not a bad thing. Even if you're not thinking of buying an electric car in the foreseeable future, you should go to a dealer and test-drive one. The Nissan Leaf will amaze you with its comfort and quiet. Likewise the Volt, until the gas engine kicks in. The i-MiEV might tickle your fancy because it's so small you can stick it in the back of your garage and use it for short city trips only while keeping your "real" car for longer drives.
If you plug your i-MiEV into a standard wall socket, it will take a ridiculous 22 hours take the charge from zero to full. But with a 220-volt home charger (which will cost you an extra grand) you can do it in seven hours. However, with a big $40,000 level three charger, you can get the battery to 80 per cent of maximum in 30 minutes or less. It's these big chargers that cities and parking lot entrepreneurs are going to be installing in high-traffic inner-city locations and along highway corridors. When they get enough of them built, your likelihood of returning home with a dead battery on the end of a tow truck will diminish considerably.
Mitsubishi has installed one behind its office near the airport. It has a big sign offering a free fast charge to any EV. A few i-MiEVs have taken advantage of the service (there are fewer than 200 on the road in Canada) but also visiting Leafs and Volts. One day a small fleet of electric Smarts driven by Daimler employees from Detroit dropped by and all plugged in for the freebie.
It's not happening fast, but electric cars are coming. Why wouldn't you want to experience them? Call up a dealer and go drive one for fun to see what they're all about. If they ever get the price down, they'll fly off the lots.