Mitsubishi Plans Big Push in Plug-in Hybrid, Electric Cars — But Prepares to Kill the Tiny i-MiEV

It might have been the first modern electric car to enter into mass production, hitting the roads of Japan a full year before the Nissan LEAF, but the diminutive Mitsubishi i-Miev electric car is, to use a well-known British marketing slogan, something of a Marmite car.

You either love it, or you hate it.

Are you going to be sad to see the i-Miev go?

Are you going to be sad to see the i-Miev go?

But whichever way you think about the four-seat plug-in city car, its days are numbered thanks to a substantial restructuring program at Mitsubishi Motors which will see it slim down the number of vehicles it produces and shift its attention towards producing three brand-new electrified crossover vehicles in the next five years.

As Automotive News (subscription required) detailed earlier today, the Japanese automaker is keen to prune its vehicular fleet in the U.S. and around the world, focusing on vehicles which will appeal to mainstream car buyers. And that, said Mitsubishi CEO Osamu Masuko, means more crossover vehicles, not small city cars.

Given the successes of the Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid in Europe, Asia and Australasia compared to the slow and somewhat stunted sales of the Mitsubishi i-Miev electric car, the news is hardly a surprise.

Limited in features -- and range -- the i-Miev lost out in the sales race to the LEAF

Limited in features — and range — the i-Miev lost out in the sales race to the LEAF

While the Mitsubishi i-Miev was originally a strong-seller in Japan, the larger and more capable Nissan LEAF soon overtook it in its home market of Japan, despite the i-Miev had the added advantage of being classified as a Kei Jidosha (a car so small in size that owners could legally purchase it without first proving they have a parking permit for it at night). Essentially, the i-Miev lost out to a better equipped, more practical car.

The mid-sized Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid meanwhile, entered into a market with no true competition, offering those who wanted a four-wheel drive crossover the option of buying a car with a real-world 15-20 miles of electric only range but long-distance capabilities thanks to a 2.0-litre gasoline engine. Moreover, it came with CHAdeMO DC quick charging capability, allowing owners to rapidly-charge their car’s 16 kilowatt-hour battery pack just like an all-electric car, dramatically increasing fuel economy over other plug-in hybrid models, charging infrastructure permitting.

While the i-Miev sales have faltered, the Outlander plug-in hybrid has given Mitsubishi some of its best years on record, with dealers struggling to keep up with demand as plug-in owners in Europe and Asia particularly take advantage of switching from a traditional crossover or minivan to a plug-in hybrid vehicle without compromise.

Despite successes elsewhere in the world however, Mitsubishi has been reluctant to bring the outlander plug-in hybrid to the U.S., delaying its launch several times before committing to a 2016 market launch and limited sales expectations. Yet with its U.S. production facilities now closing and its crossover SUVs proving popular around the world, Mitsubishi’s future goal is simple: cater to the rapidly-expanding crossover market by offering plug-in hybrid and all-electric variants alongside traditional gasoline models.

The current-generation Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has proven really popular in Europe.

The current-generation Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has proven really popular in Europe.

Next spring, the Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid will become the first of those vehicles, followed quickly by a plug-in hybrid version of a brand-new small coupe-styled crossover due some time in 2017 and an all-electric version of the Mitsubishi Outlander sport.

The tiny i-Miev, along with the aging and hardly eco-friendly Lancer, will be discontinued.

While we’re sad to see the i-Miev go — it occupies a place in our hearts similar to the tiny Morris Minor — we can see the logic, especially given the car’s tiny sales volume. When you consider that it has been in production, largely unchanged, since 2009, (and was itself based upon an internal combustion engine version called the Mitsubishi i which hit the market in 2006,) modern automotive design cycles suggest it is due a retirement anyway.

Of course, alongside the i-Miev, there’s also the Citroen C-Zero and Peugeot iOn, european rebadged versions of the i-Miev which have already ended production due to poor sales.  But with the end of production at Mitsubishi, we’re guessing all three are now destined to become a curio at the local charging station.

Are you an i-Miev owner? Are you sad to see the model go? Or do you think it’s about time Mitsubishi refreshed its plug-in line up. And are you interested in any of the promised future plug-in hybrid or all-electric crossovers?

Leave your thoughts — and tributes — in the Comments below.

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