The Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt led the electric car charge this past year-more than 15,000 Leafs have already been sold globally and Chevy is about to deliver a record 4,000 Volts in October-but even so, the initial excitement over their launches is waning.
For electric car enthusiasts, fence-sitters and onlookers alike then, it's a good thing that the second wave of modern electric cars is about to hit the market-including the Ford Focus Electric and the Mistubishi i.
While the world is still waiting for a chance to drive the Focus Electric, Mitsubishi has been steadily gearing up for the i's launch. According to Moe Durand, Mitsubishi's Manager of Product Communications, they've so far taken about 400 pre-orders requiring a $299 deposit and have launched a West Coast tour to allow potential customers a chance to drive the car.
"We're just about where we expected to be at this point in terms of customer interest," said Durand in an interview with AutoTrader.com. "We want to ramp up deliveries in the U.S. slowly and have very modest plans, especially with the unfavorable currency exchange rates right now."
Mitsubishi builds the i in Japan and then ships them here. With the Yen trading strongly against the U.S. Dollar, the profit margin has shrunk dramatically-making it difficult for Mitsubishi to continue to market the i as the most affordable modern electric car in the United States. It might potentially help if the company could build the i in an American facility. Nissan is planning to do just that with the Leaf starting at the end of 2012 and as Chevy already does with the Volt. Ford will do it with the Focus Electric. Howeve, Durand says there are no plans to do that with the Mitsubishi i.
"The way our supply chain works right now, we'd have to ship in a mostly assembled vehicle and then finish it here," he said. "Our Normal, Illinois, plant will start building the Outlander next year, but after that we don't have plans to build the i at the same facility. I'm not saying it won't ever happen, but we aren't looking into it right now."
Durand said Mitsubishi expects to sell about 1,500 i's in the U.S. in 2012, so the 400 pre-orders represent about a third of the company's total capacity for next year. Although the i isn't officially scheduled to go on sale in the U.S. until January, demo models will start reaching select California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii dealers' hands in November, giving potential customers another chance experience it for themselves before deciding whether to place an order.
Although those demo units are not meant for sale, Durand said that if a dealer wants to sell one they can. "Realistically if someone comes in and offers enough money there's nothing stopping the dealer from selling it right then and there," he said. So if you really want a Mitsubishi i before everybody else, then you could haggle your way there come November.