For a while now, I’ve been writing an auto column for a relatively new magazine called CocoEco. The magazine itself is everything I’m not- up on the latest trends, chic, polished, girly…but they’ve been kind enough to not only include a voice like mine, but have given me relatively free reign on the car stuff. Past articles covered the smart (gas version), Tesla Roadster, and Mini E- the latter two of which several folks have asked me to re-post here at some point. But the latest issue just came out today, and includes the Mitsubishi iMiev! To see the original article, go to www.cocoecomag.com (pg 104) but since I can’t link directly to the article, I’m also including it here.
Our intent is to mix it up a bit on the cars- PZEVs, hybrids, PHEVs, EVs, etc, as well as to balance between high and lower-end, and between currently available and what’s coming. So if there’s something on your wish list, let me know!
And a special thanks to Dave Patterson not only for getting me behind the wheel, but being good natured about me calling him a jackass…
The Hero and the Sidekick
Dave Patterson can be a humble guy. “Everyone wants to see the iMiev, I’m just the jackass that comes with it”, he says, without a trace of sarcasm. Where it goes, he tends to go. I’ve known Dave as Mistubishi’s electric vehicle champion for several years since meeting him at a depressingly small alternative fuels auto show in Santa Monica. As unassuming as the car he loves, he informed me then that it was his mission to bring their new EV to the United States- notable, since that wasn’t his job. Officially, Dave is the Senior Manager of Regulatory Affairs, focusing largely on the emissions of small performance-oriented cars like the Evo that his company is most known for. But as he’s chaperoned his elongated jelly bean of a car around the country, he’s learned first hand that if given the chance, people will love something non-polluting just as much.
In automotive world, Mitsubishi acts much like the proverbial middle child, carving out ways to be noticed against companies like Honda and Toyota. In this case, that involved being one of the first automakers to announce its entry into the electric vehicle market after years of the entire industry stonewalling against them. While the iMiev (“i-meev”) was originally intended solely for the Japanese market, it quickly gained a following here as well. Dave’s self-appointed challenge is to amplify consumer demand so it reaches the ears of those who run the program and affects their decisions. In the meantime, there was a car that needed driving, and I was just the girl to do it.
Dave flipped me the keys and had me drive to the Thai restaurant that was the thinly-veiled excuse for my visit (hey, I’m a simple girl). Afterward, we went on an extended drive. If the Tesla Roadster is the sleek leather pants of electric cars, the iMiev is your favorite pair of blue jeans: familiar, reliable, easy. This isn’t to say that the car isn’t fun, because it is- but it doesn’t try to be something it’s not. Its 47kW, 64hp motor isn’t huge- but then, even with seating for four, neither is the car. It accelerates confidently- even a bit faster than I expected, easily achieves highway speeds, and handles adequately- but it doesn’t claim to be performance-oriented. The prototype I drove gets about 70 miles of range per charge on less than $2 of electricity, though Mitsubishi is hoping to increase that somewhat by the time the car goes into true production. Like other electric vehicles, it can be charged at home in a few hours. In short, it’s the microwave oven of cars- not what you’d take on a trip to Vegas, but a highly capable, totally pleasant daily commuter vehicle with room for errands and trips to soccer. And because it uses space efficiently enough to feel roomier inside than it appears on the outside, it’s easy to maneuver and park in the most compact of spaces.
Mitsubishi remains open-minded, even slightly irreverent about the deployment of the iMiev, entertaining consumer demand wherever it lies. In one such example, a carbon-neutral utility in New Zealand called Meridian Energy had been trying to bring electric cars to the Kiwis for a year. But even with a national commitment, their market simply isn’t large enough to attract the attention of most automakers. Knowing an underdog when they see it, Mitsubishi stepped in and sent a demo fleet to help Meridian move their research and education efforts along while waiting for production cars. Unsurprisingly, the Kiwis fell in love with the endearingly pod-like cars and didn’t want to give them back- people around the world suggested that they shouldn’t, crafting all sorts of wild PR stunts around the iMiev. In the end, the cars were returned- but not before a crowd of people showed up to cover the cars with handwritten notes of praise.
Closer to home, Dave got his wish, at least in part. Mitsubishi announced just last month that they will indeed bring the iMiev to the US by 2012. They don’t have all the answers yet (pricing, for example, hasn’t been announced), but nor are they allowing themselves to be paralyzed by that fact. For now, they’ll be starting in Portland, another area looking to make its mark in electric transport- but if history is any indication, they’re open to other areas that make themselves heard. Sounds like an invitation if I ever heard one.
There’s no question that the stakes are high for Mitsubishi- every innovative program lives in a fishbowl to a certain extent, and the attitude of those involved reflect their awareness that they need to get it right. And for Dave, this program is deeply personal- his self-deprecation aside, he’s clearly a true believer hoping for a happy ending. He’s so refreshingly earnest that I can’t help but root for him, but it’ll be a while before we know if simply being a force for good is enough.
At the end of the day, I begrudgingly got back into my own car and left Dave and his iMiev standing in the driveway, the hero and the sidekick… But I’m still not entirely sure which was which.