Of all the scarce and precious resources in Manhattan, outdoor electrical sockets are not the first to spring to mind. Unless you’re driving Mitsubishi’s all- electric i-MiEV. In which case, sooner or later, you’ll be struck by the thought: Where am I going to plug this gizmo in?
The i-MiEV has been sold in Japan since last year. Europe is next and the States will get its own version next year. The company says the U.S. model should cost around $30,000 before a $7,500 Federal tax credit.
I began my experiment living with an electric vehicle in mid-September, when I got a Japanese-specification i-MiEV for a week. The “Mitsubishi Innovative Electric Vehicle” is intended for metropolises, which makes sense considering its limited range (45 to 75 miles) and miniature size. Think of it as an electric roller-skate for grown-ups.
Too bad my metropolis isn’t set up for electric vehicles. If I lived in the suburbs I could get a 220-volt charger installed in my garage. Instead, I need to make other arrangements.
Gaining special access in the Big Apple is all about who you know -- in this case, my garage guy. The underground space I favor has a single, wall-mounted outlet. “No problem,” he said of my request. I offered to pay extra, but he shook his head. “You’re a good customer.”
The outlet was 110 volts, so the car took 12 to 14 hours to recharge. (It charges in half that time with a 220 volt supply.) I could forget about jaunts to exotic locales, like Connecticut, as my motoring world had narrowed. Driving the i-MiEV would take planning -- not my strong suit.
My test car showed up in my neighborhood of Chelsea on a flatbed truck. It was coming from New Jersey and the delivery company didn’t want to hand it over already low on juice. Good point.
The i-MiEV runs on lithium batteries and range is dependent on the type of driving (city is better, the highway sucks juice), outside temperature (cold weather drains power faster) and use of amenities (you sure you want to put on that A/C?).
As for looks, imagine a puffed-up bubble on 15-inch wheels. It’s about the same size as a Smart Car and reminds me of a clown mobile, though in an endearing way. Since it’s not ready for import yet, my tester was directly from Japan and the steering wheel was on the right side. More comical still.
While narrow enough to nearly touch both side windows from the driver’s seat, it has four doors and a rear hatch. Four adults could conceivably fit, as long as they’re not big on personal space.
The interior is surprisingly conventional, with a gear selector that includes drive, neutral and eco, and a regular handbrake. Battery level is shown by a round gauge which digitally indicates full to empty.
The North American version will get additional safety equipment and options. And, of course, a left-side steering wheel. Mitsubishi spokesman Maurice Durand says the company isn’t trying to compete with the all-electric Nissan Leaf. Rather, it expects to sell several thousand a year to establish a toe-hold in the EV market.
Undeniably, it’s a great city car. It’s so small you can park almost anywhere and wiggle through narrow streets. With all the electric motor’s torque available on demand, it vaults to 35 miles per hour quickly enough to jump in front of taxis at stoplights. I popped around double-parked trucks and slid between cabs like a scooter.
The lack of engine noise presents an issue: Pedestrians illegally crossing the street, a not infrequent event in New York, are much less likely to notice the approach of the electric gnat.
I wasn’t brave enough to take it outside of city limits, though I did drive on the West Side Highway. At full tilt the i-MiEV makes no noise -- an odd sensation. Top speed is 81 mph.
While the i-MiEV has heated seats and a stereo, those comforts will vampire away your juice. I switched everything on and soon lost several notches on the electric gauge. Over the course of one day, I put on about 40 miles and was down to a fourth of a “tank.”
Out of curiosity, I made a stop at Manhattan’s first quick- charge station, located at the Edison Properties parking garage on Ninth Avenue. The first of what is supposed to eventually be many EV charge stations in New York, it was installed under a $37-million federal program called ChargePoint America.
The manager on duty told me that the service is free until the end of the year, and that it would take about three hours to fully recharge my car. I had only a few minutes, and got exactly one more blip on my gauge to show for it. A couple miles at least, but not as easy as filling up with gas.
So I returned early from my drive, and carefully backed into the spot in my garage next to that precious outlet. My attendant buddy watched as I plugged back in. “You know,” he said, “They’re going to force me to start charging you for this at some point.”
I nod. Oh yes, I know.
The 2010 Mitsubishi i-MiEV (Japanese Market) at a Glance
Engine: Electric motor with 16 kWh lithium-ion battery pack.
Top speed: 81 miles per hour.
Range: 45 miles to 75 miles on a charge.
Price as tested: The car in Japan costs about $46,000.
Best features: Zipping around in city traffic. No tailpipe emissions!
Worst feature: Worrying where you’re going to plug in.
Target buyer: The early adopter with a handy power outlet.
(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer of this column: Jason H. Harper at Jason@JasonHharper.com or follow on Twitter @JasonHarperSpin.
To contact the editor responsible for this column: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at email@example.com.