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Automotive

Electric cars' arrival in area sparks choices

Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Volt, Leaf won't initially sell themselves

  • Electric-cars-arrival-in-area-sparks-choices-2

    The small, electric Mitsubishi i-MiEV has a gear labeled Eco, in which acceleration is reduced to save power.

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  • Electric-cars-arrival-in-area-sparks-choices

    Archie Mead, sales manager at the Brown dealership on Central Avenue, shows off its first i-MiEV. It carries a federal income tax credit.

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Electric-cars-arrival-in-area-sparks-choices

Archie Mead, sales manager at the Brown dealership on Central Avenue, shows off its first i-MiEV. It carries a federal income tax credit.

THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT
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Robb Brown doesn't expect to sell truckloads of the Mitsubishi i-MiEV -- he's projecting maybe two a month -- but he's excited to have the plug-in electric on his Central Avenue Strip lot.

"We just felt this is where it's all going," Mr. Brown said Wednesday. "The price of gas is going up. It is a limited resource. The technology [for gas alternatives] is there and we wanted to be part of that wave."

His dealership, Brown Mitsubishi, took shipment of its first demo i-MiEV on Monday. The car has been available in Japan for about eight years. It was first introduced to the U.S. market on the West Coast, and is moving into the Midwest market. Its arrival marks the second all-electric vehicle for sale in the Toledo area. Nissan expanded availability of its all-electric Leaf nationwide on March 1. The Chevrolet Volt is also available here, though with its gas engine, it isn't a pure electric.

The i-MiEV is about 145 inches long and 62 inches wide -- dimensions vary comparable to the subcompact Fiat 500. It's about two inches narrower, four inches taller, and 20 inches shorter than the compact Honda Fit.

Mitsubishi says the car has a range of 62 miles -- less than the Leaf's 100-mile range, but more than the Volt's 35-mile range on all electric power. (With its gas engine, Chevy says the Volt has a total range of 375 miles.) The dealership's sales team figures the car to fit in as a family's second or third car, used mainly by people with a short commute.

On the road, the car feels different than a regular gas or diesel, but not so different it's unfamiliar. The oddest part might be starting the car and not hearing an engine rumble to life. For a small car, it has surprising pep -- plenty to merge into morning traffic on I-475. The car cruises easily at highway speeds and has a top end of 80 mph. Like an electric golf cart, there's noticeable deceleration the instant the accelerator is lifted. Similar to other electric and hybrids, i-MiEV's 500-pound battery recharges during coasting and braking.

The car can be charged from a regular 120-volt household outlet, but it takes 23 hours for a full charge. On a 240-volt charging station, which costs about $2,000 installed, a full charge takes six hours. There's also a rapid-charge option that puts the battery at 80 percent in 30 minutes, but Mitsubishi doesn't recommend regularly doing that to preserve the battery life. The automaker warranties the battery for eight years or 100,000 miles.

Electric-cars-arrival-in-area-sparks-choices-2

The small, electric Mitsubishi i-MiEV has a gear labeled Eco, in which acceleration is reduced to save power.

THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT
Enlarge | Buy This Image

One of the selling points for the i-MiEV is its price: just under $30,000. With the available $7,500 federal income tax credit, it brings the price to about $22,500, making it the least expensive mainstream electric car. With the tax credit deducted, the Leaf is $27,700 and the Volt, $31,600.

There is no state tax credit for the purchase of electric vehicles; however, bills have been introduced to create one.

State Sen. Cliff Hite (R., Findlay) sponsored a bill last year that would reduce the sales tax due on the purchase or lease of qualifying electric vehicles by up to $2,000.

Ali Mock, Mr. Hite's legislative assistant, said work continues into that bill. "The bill's not dead; it's not like it's not going anywhere, we're just taking it slow to make sure we're doing it the right way and it's best for the state," she said.

The EPA has given the i-MiEV a combined fuel economy equivalent of 112 miles per gallon, and an average annual fuel cost of $550. "The nice thing about it, you're not giving anything up," Mr. Brown said. "You've got somewhat of a limited range compared to gasoline engines, but again, the cost of ownership -- over five years, you save almost $10,000."

The EPA estimates a buyer of the i-MiEV would spend $9,850 less on fuel than the buyer of the average 2012 model-year car.

Still, sales manager Archie Mead admits there isn't a huge pent-up demand for electric vehicles. "It's going to take a little work for us to get them out there," Mr. Mead said. "The Nissan Leaf just got released in this area a couple weeks ago, and it's not like people are flocking to it, because they don't really know about the product. It's definitely going to take some work out of us to get the car out there, just advertise it and display it wherever we go."

Brown's initial order is for 10 cars, which should arrive in April. That's how many Mr. Mead hopes to sell this year.

"I think once people get a chance to drive them, they'll do very well," he said.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.

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