Plug-in electric car sales triple in 2012

The 2012 Mitsubishi i was named a 10 The 2012 Mitsubishi i was named a 10 Best green car by Kelley Blue Book. Photo Credit: Scripps Howard News Service/Mitsubishi

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As this eventful year nears its end, let it be remembered for the rise of the electric car.

Sales of plug-in electric cars -- both hybrids and battery electrics -- tripled in model year 2012, their second year on the market.

Plug-in hybrid sales have surpassed the sales of conventional hybrids in 2001, which was their second year on the market.

Despite the political rhetoric of the election year, the most popular electric-drive vehicle, the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid, is outselling half of all cars on the market today. In the meantime, conventional hybrid sales grew by more than 50 percent in model year 2012, more than four times as fast as the rest of the vehicle market.

These facts are highlighted in a backgrounder from the Union of Concerned Scientists for the Los Angeles Auto Show, which has positioned itself as the premiere staging area for cars that tread lightly on the environment.

Among the new electrics introduced in LA are the Chevrolet Spark EV and the Fiat 500e, developed by Chrysler and its Italian partner, Fiat SpA. Chevy says the Spark will hop from parked to 60 mph in less than 8 seconds, making it one of the fastest EVs on the market.

While California is the epicenter of electric vehicle rollouts, it is not the only market in the country for such novelties. There is a personality type in every state that likes the idea of never visiting the fuel pump. I know a journalist who bought a Chevrolet Volt in the Upper Midwest for his personal use and loves it. He makes a game of never having the gas engine kick on, which happens if the electric battery runs out of juice.

The pure electrics appeal to an even more select slice of the market. The Nissan Leaf won most of the publicity for its lack of an internal combustion engine, but other pure-electrics are arriving on the scene.

I recently drove a 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV, an electric version of the Mitsubishi I manufactured in Japan. The car's range of about 56 miles before a recharge was an obvious limiting factor, but the car was fun, fast, relatively roomy and perfect for the short hauls that life requires.

The price of $31,125 was a bit daunting, but that was before the tax incentives were included. Factoring in the tax breaks, Mitsubishi says the i-MiEV has "starting net value" of $21,625 for the ES trim and $23,625 for the higher SE version.

The i-MiEV carries EPA ratings of 126 miles per gallon equivalency in city driving and 99 mpg in highway driving and achieves a "real world" EPA driving range of 62 miles.

The car's batteries can be recharged in about 22 hours with the 120-volt Level 1 portable charging cable, or 7 hours by a dedicated 240v Level 2 EVSE charger. The battery can take an 80 percent charge in under 30 minutes from a public Level 3 quick charging station via the optional charging port.

Charging stations are a limitation, but becoming more available as infrastructure for the electric car develops.

"Detractors declare failure if the new technology is not leading the race right out of the gate or when expected bumps in the road materialize," the Union of Concerned Scientists says in its report. "They also use unrealistic marketing goals as a yardstick for the success of EVs rather than looking at the real progress that has been made."

To emphasize the point, the union notes that the Toyota Prius, a pioneering hybrid that was seen as experimental a decade ago, is now the best-selling car in California.

"Battery electric vehicles may take longer to expand their market share compared to plug-in hybrids as consumers need to understand how a battery electric car fits their lifestyle, but they have potential to be a lower cost option in the long run than plug-in hybrids," the report adds.

2012 MITSUBISHI I-MiEV

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TYPE: Plug-in electric four-door, five passenger, subcompact hatchback.

PRICE: $31,125 base, $34,920 as tested.

WHERE BUILT: Mizushima, Japan.

POWER: 49 KW (66 horsepower) AC synchronous motor; 16 KWH lithium ion battery; 120/240 V on-board charging system; single fixed reduction gear transmission.

MILEAGE: 112 miles per gallon equivalent combined city and highway.

LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT: 144.7 x 62.4 x 63.6 inches.

WHEELBASE X TRACK: 100.4 x 55.9/54.3 inches.

CURB WEIGHT: 2,579 pounds.

STANDARD: 4 speaker, 100-watt AM/FM/CD audio system with MP3/WMA playback capability; speed-sensitive Electric Power Steering; LED taillamps; driver's seat heater; electric manual air conditioning system with micron filter; vehicle security and immobilizer anti-theft system; advanced airbag system with dual-stage front airbags, driver and front-passenger seat-mounted side-impact supplemental airbags and roof-mounted curtain side-impact supplemental air bags; 4-wheel anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution; Active Stability Control with Traction Control Logic.

WARRANTY: 3-year/36,000-mile new vehicle; 5-year/60,000-mile power train; 8-year/100,000-mile battery; 3-year/36,000-mile roadside assistance.

Email Richard Williamson at motorfriend(at)sbcglobal.net

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