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Mitsubishi pulls plug on electric iMiev

Electric cars struggle in Australia because the government doesn’t offer tax incentives to adopt the technology.

A month after the NRMA switched on NSW’s first high-speed electric-car charger, one of the two vehicles it was designed for is retreating from the showroom.

Last month, Mitsubishi wholesaled the remaining stock of iMiev hatches to 70 dealers – up from the initial nine specialists selected – but the company has no plans to order more unless there is customer demand. The iMiev cost more than $65,000 when it was launched three years ago – the first modern-era electric car sold in Australia. The price was cut to $48,880 in August 2011 to try to broaden its appeal.

But only 227 cars have been delivered locally, in part because of the car’s limited driving range (between 100km and 160km), and because equivalent-sized petrol-powered “micro”cars start at $11,990. 

Mitsubishi Australia vice president Paul Unerkov says the iMiev has not been withdrawn from sale, but it will be a customer-order-only proposition once existing stock sells out.

“It’s not the death of the electric car, it is still available but as a customer order only,” Unerkov told News Limited. “We have gone from selling the car through nine dealers, to opening it up to 70 dealers. How some people have concluded that is the end is beyond me. We’ve got enough cars for now, based on the run rate, to last us for the next few months. And when they sell out we have the ability to order more.”

Tony Principe, Mitsubishi Australia’s head of product marketing strategy, told media earlier this week: “The reality is the price level for that type of vehicle is obviously higher than the market is prepared to pay. We got to certain level of volume but it’s hard to go above that. We’ve actively pursued all avenues. There was an initial surge [in demand] and then basically it’s waned from the various government departments.”

He said electric cars struggle in Australia because the government doesn’t offer tax incentives to adopt the technology – unlike North America, Japan and most European countries. “As an industry we have tried to get some of those subsidies [introduced in Australia],” Principe said. “A lot of countries around the world have a lot of subsidies [for electric cars] … and that’s helping drive volumes. But here in Australia there is still no move from the government.”

Nissan has sold 96 Leaf electric cars in the past 18 months. Its price started at $51,500 plus on-road costs but it was slashed to $46,990 drive-away late last year to stimulate sales. The company says it has no plans to drop the Nissan Leaf from its line-up.