Langkawi seduces, not for the first time. Peering out from MH1438′s window, the cluster of 99 islands in the blue sea that make up Langkawi immediately calms the mind, and brings a smile. And when the Four Seasons Resort is your home away from home, you’ll want to stay for awhile. But we got work to do, so time to get down and dirty.
Or not, because the car we’re here to drive is as clean as they come. Mitsubishi Motors Malaysia, which in October last year became the first to register a full electric vehicle in Malaysia, is launching its Eco-Tourism Pilot Demonstration Program, starring the i-MiEV.
If you don’t already know, the i-MiEV is based on MMC’s i minicar, but there’s no internal combustion engine and no need to refuel, because it’s 100% battery powered and rechargeable. Zero tailpipe emissions, too.
And it’s no fancy concept either – the i-MiEV is a production car already on sale elsewhere, and hopefully one day, Malaysia. It was first sold domestically in 2009, before European sales started in 2010. The little car was launched in North America late last year.
Here’s how the program works. MMM is loaning one unit of the i-MiEV to Four Seasons Langkawi, where guests of the five-star resort can use around the island, for free. No money required, just feedback.
This will go on for two months from 23 February. The stated mission is to gain better understanding of customer behaviour and expectations from an EV. There’s some prestige to be had for both parties too, in my opinion, since everyone is flashing their eco credentials these days.
“Fundamentally, eco tourism means making as little environmental impact as possible and encouraging the preservation of environment when visiting a place. 100% electric with zero emissions, yet offering surprising power and a smooth quiet ride, the i-MiEV is the greenest way to drive in Langkawi,” Tetsuya Oda, CEO of MMM proclaimed.
“This fits perfectly into our philosophy of engaging in sustainable practices that conserve natural resources and reduce environmental impact,” Philippe Larrieu, Four Seasons Langkawi Resort Manager chipped in.
We understand that after its stint at Four Seasons, WVY 159 will continue to serve Langkawi at another location. By the way, MMM, as pioneer, went through nearly one year of working with various authorities to help chart a new course in a system where tax is charged according to engine cubic capacity (the i-MiEV has none, remember), among other obstacles.
And of course, there’s the usual process of getting type approval etc. If you’re wondering, road tax for the i-MiEV is RM10 per year, after a 50% EV discount. Not sure how they arrived there, though. Notice the road tax sticker says “49000 W” in place of where the engine cubic capacity normally as – it reflects the i-MiEV’s 49kW motor power.
At the event, we also learnt something new from Takayuki Yatabe of MMC’s EV Business Promotion Department. In a “did you know” moment, the Tokyo based exec shared that the i-MiEV is great as an emergency power source, since its lithium ion battery pack stores the equivalent of one and a half days of the electricity used by a typical Japanese household.
He added that MMC is developing tech that will allow i-MiEVs to supply up to 1,500 watts of electricity to power electric jugs, rice cookers, hair dryers, and other small but vital appliances. Not so useful here perhaps, but Japan is frequently hit by earthquakes, which could knock out electricity supply. In fact, 60 units of the i-MiEV were used for relief purposes in the earthquake/tsunami disaster last year, when gasoline supply dried up.
After all that, I hopped into the car for a spin round the block. Having driven various EVs before, including a pre-production i-MiEV, the stint wasn’t as eye opening as it could be, but it’s still a stark contrast from regular motoring. For one, you twist the key (same design as other Mitsus) but there’s no resulting sound or vibration, only a signal from the instrument cluster that the i-MiEV is ready to roll. Step on it and it glides off with a synthesised whirr.
Yes, the sound on take off and low speeds is manufactured and comes out from a speaker. This is for safety purposes, in case pedestrians can’t hear an EV coming. Apparently, the sound has been agreed upon by all carmakers, sort of like an “official EV noise” if there’s such a thing. Sounds very natural, and I wouldn’t have noticed if they didn’t say, honestly.
Keep your foot on the gas and the ample torque (180 Nm from rest) gets you to highway speeds in a blink. It’s like a powerful regular car, just without the engine/exhaust note we’re accustomed to. The rate of acceleration tapers off once you’re cruising along, but one’s not meant to race around in this anyway. Instead, keeping an eye on the Charge/Eco/Power bar becomes second nature. Lower is better, battery lasts longer.
Everything else feels regular, except that tyre roar becomes so much more apparent when it’s the only noise you hear. The steering felt a little heavy for me, although there’s no big issue with the regenerative brakes (some early hybrids with these brakes had odd pedal feel).
The i-MiEV is a great runabout, and I can see myself driving it everyday without compromise. Measured by the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) the car is capable of 150 km on a full charge. Even if we take 100 km as a realistic figure, many daily routines will be covered, and charging can be done overnight (eight hours at 230 volts). Can’t be that cumbersome, since some people charge their smartphones more often than that!
The only thing stopping MMM is cost. EVs and their batteries are currently expensive to make, and it will be uncompetitive without government incentives in the form of rebates and subsidies. If you’re wondering how long the batteries in the i-MiEV will last – Mitsubishi estimates about 70% capacity by the end of 10 years.
To give you an idea, the Japanese government gives a subsidy of 50% of the difference in price between EV and regular model. For instance, if a 660cc Mitsubishi i is RM100k and the i-MiEV’s natural price is RM200k, the subsidy will be worth RM50k. Currently, the G model i-MiEV is priced at JPY 3.8 million (RM145,017), but after subsidy, the price becomes JPY 2.84 million, or RM108,381. In the US, the i-MiEV is priced around $29k after rebate.
Norway is a great example of how popular an EV can be with support. Tax and VAT exempt, the i-MiEV also pays zero toll and can use bus lanes, making it the best selling A-segment vehicle in the country. Is the future electric? It’s all about the money, at the end of the day.