Editor’s note: a Q&A with a Mitsubishi i and electric vehicle expert on Facebook about this vehicle will soon be hosted on the CleanTechnica Facebook timeline. Keep your eye out for that announcement!
The Mitsubishi i electric vehicle has been anticipated, discussed, driven, featured in many CleanTechnica articles, and even raced, but there are probably as many ways to view the experience of a test drive as there are drivers. Yet, common, to the point of cliché, are the expressions: “It drives like a normal car,” and “It doesn’t drive like a golf cart.” Confident in my own unusual perspective, I announced, to mixed receptions, that being with the car for almost 4 days was a bit like going on a date.
“Grandmother’s house we go…”
Concurrently, I am using this “media drive” to test the myth that you can’t go to “grandmother’s house” with an electric car. The most famous trip to grandmother’s house was probably less than 10 miles and was popularized in a well known song. To grandmother’s, or whatever weekend trip you might take, may be less than 60 miles away. The Mitsubishi i has an EPA range of 62 miles, and a very excellent MPGe of 126 in the city and 99 on the highway (30 kWh / 100 miles). Seeing that if I picked up the car in central NJ, rather than having it delivered to NYC, I would be able to drive further, I took the electrified East Coast Train to New Brunswick and by the end of the day was about 90 miles outside of NYC.
People can have different goals on a date, but here I am pondering the experience of getting to know someone. My mechanical partner on this trip was a Raspberry Mitsubishi i, special edition (SE.) Take a few minutes to look through the photos of the trip. Expand them for a better look, but most of the wording is repeated in the text that follows:
Driving the Car
It was a very hot day and we jumped in the vehicle to turn on the AC. The handler, who gave me a quick lesson on operating the vehicle, was nervous with “The Plan.” “You know you have to charge this vehicle,” he panted, “you can’t just go to a gas station.” As if to distance himself from the insane, he kindly excused himself, saying, “I don’t want you to use up the battery.” The Mitsubishi i is one of only a handful of electric cars available in the US, and the only electric vehicle that this company delivers for media tests.
Undaunted, I drove South for almost an hour on the NJ turnpike in AC comfort, where the posted speed limit is 65 but traffic moves easily at 70 mph. Most electric vehicles could do more but have governors to limit the speed and maintain fuel economy. This one is set to 80 mph. The car kept up without any noticeable sign of strain. I once owned an MG midget that couldn’t do the same.
The “i” is a small car and the steering was responsive. The largest display on the dash was an analog indicator of charging or level of discharging. Flooring the accelerator would pin the dial on the power end. Accelerating would move it nicely in that area. But once any speed was reached, lightly touching the accelerator would maintain speed and move the dial into the “Eco” mode. Removing my foot would allow the vehicle to decelerate and the dial would move to charge mode. Battery electric cars have a reputation for being only “around town” cars. I was definitely operating outside the expected use, but was missing my usual “cruise control” for the open highway. At my first stop, after traveling over 35 miles of mostly highway speeds with the AC on, the initial 16 bars on the battery charge indicator had been reduced to 4.
“Shifting” the vehicle from “drive” to “economy” would make the accelerator less responsive (0 to 60 takes longer) and allow somewhat more regeneration when the foot was removed from the control. This effect is pushed even more with the shift control in “B (braking?).” So it is possible to downshift the vehicle when coming to a stop, and use engine braking as you might do with a manual shift car. Unlike its petrol counterpart, this downshifting is not only saving the brakes, but also charging the battery. This would play an important role in my last trip with the vehicle.
With only a single and fixed gear, “shifting” has nothing to do with a transmission, gears, or engine speed. It is an electronic switch that changes the nature of the accelerator control and regenerative braking. The feel is entirely different from a petrol vehicle. There is never any jarring with the MiEV. Everything is very smooth.
My Date with the Mitsubishi i
As I slowly found out more about my EV partner in different settings, I was also able to observe reactions of family, friends, and the people we met along the way. My first stop was the home of a storyteller who once regaled me with the feeling of the electrified trolleys he once traveled in across rural NJ as a boy. We had arrived at the “Grandfather’s house.” Sadly, the electric trolleys no longer exist. “We have gone backwards,” he complained with exasperation. But with some pride, he presently boasted, “Now I can say I have ridden in an electric car.” OK, the trip was worthwhile.
The Small Battery Solution
Electric vehicles can be made with large batteries. The new Tesla Model S caters to this demand, with batteries as large as 85 kWh. The big battery will be more costly to replace than a smaller battery. It will also take longer to charge and it is more weight to carry around (not to mention the cost and weight of a hybrid’s gasoline engine). Like astrophysicists looking for Earth-like planets, we need a Goldilocks solution. A battery that is not too big and not too small, but just right for the size of the vehicle and expected charging level. The Mitsubishi i has, at 16 kWh, a small battery, but it is enough for this road trip and most daily driving. More importantly, as there are almost no public charging stations in NJ, I can plug it into any 120-volt outlet (level 1 charging) and recharge the vehicle in a practical amount of time.
Bryan Arnett, Senior Manager, Product & Accessory Strategy for Mitsubishi North America had this to say about the “i”: The relationship between charge time and battery size is not a primary decision factor for me… Because charge time is most impacted by the amperage capacity of the On-Board Charger (OBC) system. For example, currently, the i-MiEV uses a 15A on-board AC-DC charger, which charges the 16kWh battery in about 7 hours… [at 240 volts]. If we increased amperage of OBC to a 30A system, the time to charge the same 16kWh battery pack would be reduced to about 3.5 hrs.
So I’m sure your next question is why did we not use a 30A system…. Reason is because it was felt that 7 hours charge cycle was acceptable for overnight charging and was the best cost versus value. For quicker charging during daytime use, we recommend the CHaDEMO commercial charger infrastructure, which can charge the battery to 80% in just 20-30 minutes. (See Page 3 for more on this.)
How Much Charge Time is Available?
I drove around a bit and finally put the vehicle on to charge at around 5:30 pm, with two bars remaining. Most vehicles sit for 23 hours a day. (12,000 mile average a year / 365 days = 33 miles / day = less than 1 hour driving.) If a vehicle is traveling for less than 1 hour a day, that potentially leaves 23 hours for charging. It takes only seconds to plug it in and the same to unplug it. I didn’t sit and watch the vehicle charge (and wasn’t forced to watch a propaganda screen at the pump), but spent the time visiting, resting, and preparing for the next trip.
With just a little planning, we can travel, stay, travel, stay, and enjoy a relaxing trip that is probably better for us than long periods of sitting in a vehicle. We clamor for longer ranges that we don’t always need, have limited use to us (again, we average less than one hour of driving a day), aren’t good for us in any event, and may not be as good for the vehicle, as higher charge levels also tend to shorten battery life. It is in our nature to always want more.
But a battery EV may not work for everyone. “He goes to work and then sometimes has to go to meetings across the state from there.” The EV can work well when the route is small or easily planned. Uncertainty, like flexibility, is a cost that must be paid at the pump.
Charging: Amps, Volts, and Watts
I was surprised that the provided cord contains 16 AWG (American Wire Guage) wire. Using NEC (national electrical code) standards, this is sufficient for continuous load of 8 amps. Charging the vehicle draws about 7.3 amps, varying slightly over the duration of the charge. (I have a lawnmower that draws 9 amps, and a car battery charger that draws 10 amps, and with these I use a 12 AWG extension cord good for 16 amps of continuous draw.)
7.3 amps at 120 volts is 876 watts. This is a bit like filling a swimming pool with a straw, as the 16 kWh battery will require at least (16000/876=) 18.27 hours. The car’s rated 21.5-hour charge time (using a 120-volt level 1 charge) is due to some small inefficiency of the on-board charger and a charging pattern that tapers the charge amperage at the end of the charge cycle. In most countries with 240 volt power, that same wire size would give (8 x 240 =) 1920 watts, and as the voltage is doubled, the charge time is reduced by half. A portable aftermarket EVSE (electric vehicle service equipment) is available that will charge at a higher amperage and automatically switch from 120 to 240 as available for a very reasonable price, but it may not meet the fine print in the owner’s manual.
–> On to Page 2, where you will find another reason to buy an EV, a dog inspector and a large visitor.