Mitsubishi Promises More Plug-in Models, Again

By · August 12, 2016

Mitsubishi's xM concept

It’s reasonable to doubt that Mitsubishi will fulfill any announced plans for upcoming plug-in electric vehicles. After all, the past couple of years have been characterized by unconvincing EVs, product delays and a scandal involving systematic misreporting of fuel efficiency numbers.

Regarding unfulfilled previous plans, in 2011 the company said it would launch six new plug-in hybrid or electric cars by 2015. That plan did not materialize—and its Outlander plug-in hybrid SUV, which is popular in Europe and Japan, has still not yet reached American shores.

Nonetheless, a new Mitsubishi product presentation circulating the web indicates plans for plug-in hybrid and pure electric versions of a new crossover and perhaps two small EVs about the size of the i-MiEV. The presentation suggests these models could become available—although not necessarily in the United States—between 2017 and 2020.

The new presentation echoes what Mitsubishi said this month: that it would soon show an electrified crossover or “multi-purpose vehicle”, based on the xM concept—with the x standing for crossover and the M for multipurpose. The model has what Mitsubishi calls a Dynamic Shield front end, flared fenders and high ground clearance. By all appearances, it’s like a baby version of the Outlander.

In addition, Mitsubishi issued a press release in June promising a Grand Tourer concept that “expresses Mitsubishi Motors' plug-in hybrid electric flagship technology,” to debut at the Paris Motor Show in September. The press release played up the capabilities of such a vehicle to be taken off road, while offering a sleek design, quiet cabin, and comfortable long-distance cruising. Additional details about driving range or cost were not provided.

Customer Expectations

If news about a new small crossover plug-in receives a collective shoulder-shrug from American car buyers, it’s because the Japanese automaker has delayed the American debut of the Outlander several times. Add one more delay to the count when earlier this month, Alex Fedorak, Mitsubishi Motors North America spokesman, said: “Following a thorough evaluation process, we have determined that in order to meet a level of competitiveness that will exceed customer expectations in the United States, the launch of the Outlander PHEV will be delayed until the summer of 2017.” He said the delay will allow Mitsubishi to offer the model with better driving characteristic and more features. It’s not clear how these statements relate to announcements about the new concepts.

What’s confusing about Mitsubishi’s recent history is that sales of the Outlander Plug-in Hybrid have been brisk in Europe. The SUV looks like a winner. In fact, in March, Mitsubishi broke the 100,000-unit mark for global sales of the vehicle—making it the fourth most popular grid-powered vehicle in the world (behind the Nissan LEAF, Tesla Model S and Chevy Volt). Over the past year, there have been several months in which the Outlander PHEV was the best selling plug-in hybrid in Europe—perhaps due to its compelling combination of decent size, respectable all-electric range of around 20 miles, and relative affordability. Three out of five Outlanders are hold as plug-in hybrids in Europe.

For about the past three years, the plug-in Outlander would have been the only electrified SUV on the American market. However, models such as the Tesla Model X and Volvo XC90 T8, went on sale this year.

While the diminutive small all-electric Mitsubishi i-MiEV has posted less convincing sales numbers in the US since its release in 2011, it has earned a small but loyal cadre of fans. In an approaching era when pure electric cars can offer 200 or more miles of range, the i-MiEV seems out of step with its small dimensions, cartoonish styling, and cheap interior—and most of all, its limited range of 62 miles on a single charge.

Like Volkswagen, which appears to now be gung-ho about EVs in the wake of its diesel-emissions scandal, Mitsubishi could finally make its plug-in plans a reality—after revelations in April that the company had systematically falsified mileage data about some of its Japan-market models for more than two decades. The fuel efficiency numbers were overstated by up to 16 percent, with little to no oversight from employees responsible for reporting on mileage. Mitsubishi managers said they were under intense pressure to keep pace with fuel economy numbers reported by its competitors.

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