Remember Apple Computer’s “Think Different” advertising campaign, back in 1997? With photographs of Muhammad Ali, Jim Henson, the Dali Lama, and Albert Einstein, among others, Apple urged us to reconsider our computer purchases in a world dominated by computers running Microsoft’s DOS text-interface operating system. The idea of Apple, with the Macintosh, a computer running a graphic operating system, becoming the most dominant force in the industry was a huge leap of faith.
Steve Jobs may have passed on, but we’re in a similar place now, with regard to electric vehicles. Fifteen years later, we’re faced with far too many closed-minded Luddites, that refuse to see what’s roaring (quietly) down the highway.
There are an awful lot of folks eager to put down electric vehicles (EVs) as being pie-in-the-sky, not-ready-for-prime-time technology. To many (of the same folks) decry renewable energy and the solar power industry as being impractical. This all reminds me of the IBM/DOS-centric world, fifteen years ago.
It’s time for the disinformation campaign to take a break.
Electric cars are real. They’re here right now. The solar energy industry employs tens of thousands of workers. This is not a fairy tale. It’s reality.
I first drove the Mitsubishi i-MiEV way back in 2009, at an Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA) event in Washington DC. While Mitsubishi was out there early, it’s taken years for them to finally get around to selling the i-MiEV here in the States. It’s a decision that they didn’t make lightly. The i-MiEV is an odd-looking duck. It has a limited driving range. The interior amenities are spartan. Its charge times are longer than the competition. But despite all that, it’s a cool little car. It has its place.
And that place, primarily, is in progressive cities, where you’ll find a growing number of public electric charging stations. As a city car, the i-MiEV’s primary competitors are the conventionally-powered Smart FourTwo, Scion iQ, Fiat 500, MINI Cooper, Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, and Ford Fiesta. The i-MiEV’s fully electric drive train and comparatively spacious back seat and cargo capacity makes it an interesting alternative to those cars – whether for personal transportation or as a delivery vehicle. Unlike all those vehicles, the i-MiEV is rear-wheel-drive (RWD). The 49 kW AC synchronous electric motor is mounted in the rear. The rear seat provides 30 inches of legroom and 34.3 inches of headroom. The maximum cargo volume is 50.4 cubic feet.
I’ve driven a bunch of electric vehicles over the years, but I’ve only had the opportunity to put the Chevy Volt through the full review process. While I’m usually able to book most review vehicles for a week, they’re not always available for that length of time. The Mitsubishi i-MiEV – like the Scion FR-S tested earlier this year – was only available for a Friday-to-Monday loan. With the tight time frame and the i-MiEV’s long charge times, I had to think even further out of the box and step up the pace to produce a video. The standard MPGomatic review format wouldn’t work, due to time and range constraints. In order to survive in the car review game, “you gotta take ‘em as they come.”
So I decided to cam up the car and take a tour of the growing number of solar electric power installations in my hometown, before going hunting for public electric charging stations. Mitsubishi kindly provided a Chargepoint card and I began my adventure by searching for chargers on Chargepoint’s website. I found just a handful of charging stations within driving range from home.
When you drive a purely electric car – as opposed to an extended-range electric, like the Chevy Volt – you need to plan ahead.
The 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV has a modest range; it’s rated at 62 miles by the EPA. A 240V Level 2 charging station can fill up the 16 kWH lithium-ion battery pack from empty in seven hours. With the standard 120V portable charging cable (Level 1) will take 22.5 hours. If you’re lucky enough to find a Level 3 CHAdeMO protocol “Quick-Charge” station, you can achieve an 80% charge in half an hour … but these stations are rare in these parts. After topping off the i-MiEV’s battery overnight here at Rancho Indebto, the on-board indicator displayed an 82 mile range.
After a short time in the i-MiEV, you’ll learn that stomping on the pedal for a 0-60 mile per hour (MPH) run will show an immediate drop in range and that careful driving with an emphasis on energy regeneration can preserve range. The i-MiEV is operable on the highway and has a top speed of 81 MPH.
The i-MiEV’s interior is austere, but it does most of the features you’d expect in a high-tech car, including hands-free Bluetooth, USB audio connection, rearview camera, and navigation. The audio system has a 40GB HD for music storage. The driver’s bucket seat has a one-level heater … this is an important feature, as the cabin heater can take its toll on range on cold days. The cabin can be pre-heated or cooled while it’s still plugged into a charger. Power conservation while on the road is essential. Plug-hounds may be disappointed that there is just one 12-volt outlet.
We’re in a transitional period. Early electric vehicle adopters are both pioneers and patriots. It takes a good bit of guts and brains to make it work. Folks with a relatively short commute and the ability to charge at home will be able to make the i-MiEV fit into their daily routine. It’s not for everyone. But then again, neither is the Bugatti Veyron. Cars are commitments. You need to choose which one makes the most sense for you.
The kids of today should consider themselves lucky to live in a world where the Graphical User Interface has conquered all. In another fifteen years, electric cars and solar energy might not be dominant, but they will surely be commonplace.
– by Daniel Gray
2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV SE