Why Mitsubishi Is Making a Big Mistake By Removing CHAdeMO Quick Charging on U.S. Outlander Plug-in Hybrid

[Edit: Thanks to readers for pointing out that Australian and New Zealand Outlanders also do not have CHAdeMO capabilities. We’ve amended the article to reflect this.]

With seating for five, a commanding view of the road ahead, a pricing structure that makes it no more expensive than its internal combustion-engined siblings, and a zero-emission all-electric range of around 20 miles per charge, the Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in hybrid crossover SUV has well and truly captured a corner of the plug-in vehicle marketplace across Europe and Asia in the three years since it launched. So much so, the Outlander Plug-in Hybrid now outsells non plug-in Mitsubishi Outlanders by a more than a factor of three, helping the Japanese automaker experience some of its most profitable years to date.

The Outlander PHEV is finally coming to the U.S. -- but without CHAdeMO

The Outlander PHEV is finally coming to the U.S. — but without CHAdeMO

Why so popular? Some of the Outlander PHEV’s popularity can be attributed to the popularity of the crossover SUV in today’s global marketplace. But perhaps what truly sets the Outlander PHEV apart from other plug-in hybrids on the market today is its capability to rapid charge its battery pack from empty to 80 percent full at a CHAdeMO DC quick charging station. The only plug-in hybrid on sale today with such a capability, it’s possible to dramatically improve the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV’s overall fuel economy on a trip simply by stopping at a public CHAdeMO DC quick charge station for 30 minutes, making triple-digit average fuel economy easily obtainable for the patient.

Based on this simple fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking CHAdeMO DC quick charging — and the ubiquity of CHAdeMO DC quick charging in electric-car friendly states like California, the Pacific Northwest and the East coast — would be a perfect selling point for Mitsubishi to use when it finally launches the Outlander PHEV in the U.S. later this year as a 2017 model-year car.

But as James B. Treece, News Editor at Automotive News discovered today at a special Mitsubishi preview event head of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next week, the Japanese automaker has decided to omit quick charging capability altogether on U.S. spec Outlander plug-ins.

Customers have been waiting for the U.S. version of the popular plug-in for years.

Customers have been waiting for the U.S. version of the popular plug-in for years.

“When I opened the charging door on the passenger side of the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV plug-in hybrid crossover, I found a charging port and a large empty space covered with a flat slab of plastic,” Treece explained in a short article earlier today. “The charging port is the same SAE-standard version I have on my Chevrolet Volt. The empty space? That’s where a large CHAdeMO port should have been.”

The reason? Ken Konieczka, vice president of sales operations at Mitsubishi Motors North America Inc., said that the decision had been made to remove CHAdeMO DC quick charging capability on U.S.-spec Outlander PHEV models because of limited CHAdeMO DC quick charging availability.

As those familiar with the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV will know, European, and Asian versions of the Outlander PHEV include two filler caps, one on each of the rear quarter panels.

The smaller one on the vehicle’s left hides a conventional gas filler gap. The one on the right — larger in size — hides a J-1772 inlet alongside a CHAdeMO DC quick charge port. That body panel — which is the same for all markets — has been designed with DC quick charging in mind.

Yet like the U.S.-market Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive (which also has what looks like space behind its charge door for either a Tesla-specification Supercharger connection or a CCS quick charge port) Outlander PHEV customers will have to be content with far slower level 2 charging.

From an economic point of view, we’re guessing there are some small cost-savings to be made by not including DC quick charging, especially if Mitsubishi expects the Outlander PHEV to sell in large volumes in markets where CHAdeMO DC quick charging isn’t available.

But we think there are several good reasons why Mitsubishi’s decision is the wrong one for both the brand and its prospective customers.

Firstly, we think Mitsubishi is completely wrong when it comes to charging availability.  CHAdeMO DC quick charging , while one of several different DC quick charging standards available in the U.S., is by far the most popular. According to the CHAdeMO association, there are currently more than 1,386 CHAdeMo DC quick charging stations in North America. This figure has doubled in the past year alone, helped by the hard work of national and local governments, charging infrastructure providers and automakers like Nissan and Kia — both of whom sell CHAdeMO-equipped cars.

In its previous guise, the Outlander PHEV found plenty of fans, selling 85,000 examples globally in three years.

In its previous guise, the Outlander PHEV found plenty of fans, selling 85,000 examples globally in three years.

(The Mitsubishi i-Miev city car — a car which Mitsubishi confirmed would end production this year — also includes CHAdeMO capabilities, but to date, we’re unaware of Mitsubishi investing heavily in U.S. CHAdeMo infrastructure.)

And while we’ll admit there are entire swathes of the U.S. and Canada where there’s not a single CHAdeMO DC quick charging station — Montana, North Dakota and Saskatchewan come to mind — most densely populated areas of both the U.S. and Canada now have a healthy network of CHAdeMO DC quick charging stations. It’s not just the east and west coasts either — places like Kansas City, Salt Lake City and Minneapolis have a healthy number of DC quick charging stations surrounding them. If CHAdeMO DC quick charging continues to roll out at the pace it is currently progressing at, we’ll see close to 1,000 additional CHAdeMO stations commissioned before the late-summer Outlander PHEV launch date — and close to 3,000 CHAdeMO DC quick charging stations across the continent by this time next year.

Admittedly, that’s far less than the estimated 150,000 places in the U.S. alone where you can buy gasoline today, but as the number of plug-in cars on the market increase, so too will the number of charging stations.

Secondly, CHAdeMO DC quick charging is a great aid in encouraging owners to use less fossil fuels and more renewably-generated electricity, especially when it comes to making longer-distance trips. While few plug-in hybrid owners will happily wait the five or so hours it takes to refill the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV’s battery pack from empty to full via a Level 2 charging station while on a long-distance road trip, a CHAdeMO DC quick charging session can take less time than it does to visit the restroom and then grab a coffee and a sandwich. By including CHAdeMO in its non-U.S. Outlander models, Mitsubishi not only helped encourage its customers to use less fossil fuels but helped them to get used to the concept of quick charging that makes long-distance 100% electric vehicle travel possible.

Thirdly, a large number of Mitsubishi’s prospective customers in the U.S. are already electric car owners who are on the look out for a plug-in hybrid SUV to replace an existing gasoline-only model. Many of these prospective customers are already well-versed in the idea of DC quick charging and use all-electric cars like the Nissan LEAF or Ford Focus EV on a daily basis as their principal commuting car.

The Outlander PHEV's CHAdeMO capabilities has always been handy.

The Outlander PHEV’s CHAdeMO capabilities has always been handy.

At the weekends, they need a larger car capable of taking their family and their luggage on trips, or perhaps a car that is capable of tackling hard winter weather or camping trails. They want the convenience of owning an SUV without the guilt associated with a thirsty V-6 drivetrain that gets a gas mileage measured in the teens. And if that car can also operate in zero-emission mode around town, saving them money in the process, it’s even better.

It’s a behavioural thing too. From the Chevrolet Volt to the Ford Focus Fusion and the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid, nearly every plug-in hybrid owner prefers to drive in electric if they can. CHAdeMO DC quick charge capability gives customers that choice. Removing the capability removes the choice — and will cost Mitsubishi customers as a consequence.

Finally, there’s the cost of fuel. Right now, with gas at $2 or less a gallon in many states, the incentive to pay $20 a month for unlimited DC quick charging via a charging provider subscription service makes little sense in terms of cost-benefit analysis, as the financial cost for the amount of time it takes to charge is more than the cost to fill up with gasoline.

But as gas prices rise — and the majority of analysts predict they will — having a car that can offer long-distance capabilities while simultaneously rapid charging for shorter trips is a particularly strong marketing tool to encourage customers away from conventionally-powered SUVs.

Mitsubishi has taken far longer than it should to bring the Outlander PHEV to market, delaying it multiple times over the past few years and frustrating car buyers along the way. Its latest piece of news is further disappointment for those who have patiently waited for the plug-in hybrid SUV so highly-regarded elsewhere in the world.

We, like many, are disappointed by this decision. And it leaves us just one question left: does Mitsubishi really want to sell the Outlander PHEV in North America — or is its doubtful attitude to the market going to become a self-fulfilling prophecy of market failure?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.

[Hat-tip: Brian Henderson]

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