So, This Is What's Wrong With the MiEV

Mitsubishi brought a couple of i-MiEVs to the Chicago Auto Show, one in white and one in a gorgeous plum purple. Since I’ve written about the capabilities and specs of the i-MiEV multiple times, I don’t think I need to go into that here, but I did come to a realization while poking at the display. I think I have identified why the i-MiEV will not do well in the American market (and seriously, guys, this makes no one sadder than me, because it is still the cutest electric car I have ever seen).

The Cutest EV of 2011

On the outside, the i-MiEV looks great. It’s got the egg shape with the quizzical little headlights tilting forward, the tiny little grill at front looking like a happy cartoon mouth, and even the bigger bumpers actually look pretty decent in person. It looks like an actual car, not some kind of (admittedly adorable) toy.

One of the floor models had its hood up, and I have to give points to Mitsubishi for this. The vast majority of hybrid and electric cars we poked at had the hoods (and sometimes even the trunk) locked down tight. In stark contrast, the i-MiEV was just hanging out with its electric motor on display, as if to say, “Hey, look, electric cars aren’t scary or arcane at all. Come see how this works.” It was a display that encouraged all sorts of curiosity.

…But Not On the Inside

But then I opened the doors and got to poke around the inside of the car. It’s really easy to tell that it’s based on a kei car (the little tiny inexpensive ones with awesome gas mileage that come with the advantages of lower yearly taxes and fees but as a trade-off don’t go faster than maybe 60 mph with a stiff tailwind). And honestly, the inside of most kei cars do not really qualify as “nice.”

Don’t get me wrong – the Mitsubishi i and i-MiEV are perfectly serviceable little vehicles. They’ve got all the parts you need in the places you’d expect, they’ll go where you want, they’re super adorable and I would still drive either one into the ground. But when bringing the i-MiEV to an American market and charging upwards of $20,000 after the maximum tax credit has been applied… the consumer expects that the inside is actually going to look really nice.

And unfortunately, the inside of the i-MiEV looks and feels like a kei car. I don’t think the fact that it’s an electric car or the fantastic most-efficient-ever EPA rating will be able to overcome that impression. I am disappointed, Mitsubishi. For what it’s worth, the best impression I got from sitting in a battery electric car at the show was the Nissan Leaf. It was fabulous. And I wanted the i-MiEV to be fabulous, too, it just didn’t happen.

Questions? Opinions? Tell me I’m wrong or totally right? Let us know in the comments below the gallery.

Source | Images: 2012 Chicago Auto Show.

Charis Michelsen

spent 7 years living in Germany and Japan, studying both languages extensively, doing translation and education with companies like Bosch, Nissan, Fuji Heavy, and others. Charis has a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. She also believes that Janeway was the best Star Trek Captain.