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Mitsubishi plans plug-in hybrid SUV

... so carmakers are turning to new-wave plug-in hybrid vehicles as a stop-gap measure.

Mitsubishi - which is marketing Australia's first volume electric car, the i-MiEV - says it will release a production version of its PX-MiEV SUV concept as a plug-in hybrid by 2013.

The Outlander-based wagon is a range-extender - it can use its petrol engine or an overnight plug-in system to recharge its batteries for the electric motors - similar in concept to the Holden Volt.

Though the PX may be beaten to the showrooms by the Volt (expected in 2012), it will be first large vehicle that can source power from an internal combustion engine, an onboard generator, or batteries.

It will also better suit the lifestyle of Australians, says Mitsubishi Motors Australia Ltd vice president of corporate strategy, Paul Stevenson.
"(With small-range all-electric cars) we're asking Australians to make lifestyle changes," he says.

"We like bigger cars, like SUVs. But with plug-in hybrid and electric technology, it doesn't matter what size car you drive.  The PX is a vehicle that can use electric power for commuting and the petrol and all-wheel drive system for the highways and country driving."

But Stevenson still terms plug-in technology as the "interim stage" in the march towards full electric power.  "We want to get to the stage where we have drivetrain options on models," he says.

"That is, plug-in, hybrid, electric, petrol and diesel."  Ultimately, Mitsubishi sees all-electric vehicles as likely future personal transport.  It's vital that to get there, the aspects of battery cost, driving range and charging time are addressed," he says.

"It is very difficult at the moment to achieve all three. Which is more important? We see range and charge time as being most important.  To get the cost down, we are using alliances with PSA (Peugeot and Citroen's parent) to make more electric cars.

"The more we make gives us greater volumes which lowers the cost of the batteries - that should take three years."  Stevenson says MMAL's first fast-charge station for electric cars - primarily its own i-MiEV hatchback - can deliver 50 per cent of battery charge within 15 minutes.

Mitsubishi has leased 115 i-MiEVs to Australian governments and authorities and will offer cars to private users from June next year.  The i-MiEVs will be leased, not sold, to private motorists, says MMAL president and CEO Masahiko Takahashi.

Australia will get an upgraded i-MiEV next year but it won't be the wide-bodied version that is to be leased into the US next year.  Takahashi says the left-hand drive body is too difficult to be adapted for right-hand drive markets such as Japan and Australia.