Mitsubishi’s UK arm is having a green moment. Not content with launching its most eco-friendly car yet – the tiny 0.66-litre petrol-powered i-Car goes on sale from July 1 – its managing director also revealed the firm hopes to go one step further and have a fully electric version of the innovative city runabout on British roads by 2011.

UK MD, Jim Tyrrell, recently drove an electric prototype i-Car in Japan – the ‘i MIEV’ – and was so impressed with the near-production ready vehicle that he reckons he could sell up to 3000 of the zero-emission qualifying electric i-Cars in the UK soon after the slated 2010 Japan launch date.

Meanwhile, he’s also excited at the prospects of the tiny petrol-powered 659cc version of the rear-engined, five-door, four-seater – considered by many to be what the Smart forFour should have been. Virtually unchanged from the version on sale in Japan since January 2006 and selling at a rate of 3000 per month, the UK spec car offers 54.6mpg, a 114g/km CO2-rating (Band B road tax) plus an optional GBP150 cut-price servicing deal. It could even escape London’s congestion charge under new CO2-based proposals.

Tyrrell has only taken 300 units for now and admitted the vehicle would be a “break-even car” in terms of profits, but believed that image-wise it would be extremely positive as a “counterbalance to the 4x4s at the other end of our range.”

More petrol i-Cars are on order for the UK, and if it proves to be a big success, Tyrrell will definitely be campaigning to import the electric version to Britain too. In practical terms the lack of significant changes needed to sell Japanese spec cars in the UK due to their shared right-hand drive layouts makes it a relatively easy move.

Tyrrell envisaged a potential GBP3000-4000 premium over the petrol version’s GBP9084 price.

Mitsubishi has made no secret of its plan to have a fully electric car on sale by 2010 having shown several concepts and prototypes featuring MIEV (‘Mitsubishi in-wheel motor Electric Vehicle’) technology, but the car that will arrive first will feature a more basic technology, with an underfloor motor rather than in-wheel – but also confusingly called MiEV’ (for ‘Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle’).

The i-Car platform is well suited to translating to electric propulsion with the lithium-ion battery fitting in the space vacated by the under-seat petrol tank and the electric motor sitting where the rear-mounted engine would otherwise go.

The electric motor develops 47kW (equivalent to about 63bhp), has an 81mph top speed and two plugs – one a quick-charger that can reach 80% capacity in only 25 minutes (but requires a fast charging infrastructure still under development); and the other for today’s ordinary household electric plug sockets, that takes seven to 13 hours, depending on local country voltage.

Mitsubishi is also hoping to extend the range of its batteries from the current car’s 100-mile limit to 125 miles (200km) and recently signed a joint venture agreement with battery giant Yuasa to lower final production costs.

Despite its switch to conventionally situated in-body electric motors Mitsubishi says it is still continuing to develop its in-wheel technology too.

Guy Bird