Mitsubishi i: “Its Been An Invisible Launch”

JUN 4 2012 BY JAY COLE 7

The Mitsubishi i had its best sales month this past May, unfortunately that meant selling only about 80 copies, bringing the total cars moved off lots since its launch last November to 295.  Put another way, no one is losing any sleep over it at Nissan, Toyota or General Motors.

Those 295 cars also represent a 1,700 unit shortfall over what Mitsubishi had intended on selling over the first six months.  Elsewhere in the world, the 62 mile (EPA) all electric kei car has been more well received, with well over 16,000 sold.

Not Your Typical North American Interior

Still, at $29,125, this car is the least expensive of all the electric cars by far, undercutting a car like the Nissan LEAF by $6,000.  So why has Nissan sold thousands of cars while Mitsubishi has barely sold any?  It could be range, as the i offers 11 less electric miles (62 on the EPA standard) than the LEAF. Others would say its the i‘s tiny size.

However, according to most Mitsu dealers, they would tell you it also has something to do with the advertising behind the car.  As in, there isn’t any. Which is a fair point.  Ask anyone about the car who isn’t a hardcore EV enthusiast, and they likely will have no clue what you are talking about.

“It’s kind of been the invisible launch,” said a West Coast Mitsubishi dealer  who requested anonymity in an interviews with Automotive News (sub). “The car is very good, make no mistake about it. But  there’s very little marketing support. Customers just don’t really know about  it.”

Indeed, Mitsubishi has held the advertising budget it check.  No Super Bowl promotion like that of the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan LEAF for this car.  And that is most likely because why advertise something you are losing money on.  Mitsu themselves have admitted that they will be losing money on this car, perhaps as much as $8,000 a copy, for at least the first 24 months it is available in the US, putting most of the blame on the high value of the yen.  Still, they have to promote the car at some point, so starting now, a print and internet campaign has finally begun…but no TV.

Mitsubishi’s online ordering/deposit system that launched in April of 2011 has taken about 400 orders for the car, with about 55% following through to deliveries.

With a new push for the little electric car, Mitsu hopes to finish the year out strong, relatively speaking.   Masatoshi Hasegawa, executive VP of electric vehicle operations, says the company hopes to sell 2,200 to 2,400 but the end of this fiscal year (March 31, 2012).   The car is now available in all states except  except Alaska, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska and North Dakota, with a dealer participation rate of 75% overall.

Charging The Vehicle to Full Takes Aprox 7 Hours, 30 Mins on a Quick Charge


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7 Comments on "Mitsubishi i: “Its Been An Invisible Launch”"

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If the yen is a problem (and it most likely it is), I wonder why Mitsu hasn’t considered building the “i’s” in their Normal Illinois factory, which is highly under-utilized? Doing that could help, however, I still think there are fundamental issues with the car that would continue to cramp sales. As mentioned, it has about the lowest range of any EV on the market. Second, it is kind of a strange design. Third, the dealer network is much smaller than the competitors. Fourth, even with the lowest price for an EV on the market, it is still expensive relative to gas models of the same size.

Bottom line, I think the i is a tough sell no matter what they do.

I did a test drive of the car this spring. I also test drove the Leaf and the Volt last fall. These two are well made and seem like ‘serious’ cars, cars you can rely on.

The Mitsubishi i is a different thing. First, it’s smaller. I’m quite tall and I had a problem with the head room no matter how I set the driver’s seat. Leg room behind me was nonexistent. Acceleration seemed weaker than the Leaf and the Volt. Generally speaking, the car didn’t seem to be worth the price, even if the price was lower than the competition by a few thousands.

There was a contest set up by a local dealer to win the car and you had to test drive it to participate. After the test, I didn’t have any intention to buy the car. It’s not worth the money, in my opinion.

Perhaps the i’s lack of market penetration is a good thing here in the U.S.. Why? Because the i represents the very image of the electric car that mainstream American and Canadian citizens think of when they think of electrics – i.e.: “The Glorified Golf Cart”. It has the quirky look, the dinky size, the wheelchair tires and the tinny feel. I’m a big fan of the i. For Europe, it’s smashingly good! For their small villages and narrow roads – short distances and crowded byways – PERFECT! The Mr. Gadget Asian market is perfect for the i. When I was in Singapore, they practically have to stack autos because they have no room! Huge population centers like Hong Kong, Tokyo or Shanghai scream for vehicles like the i. For N. America, with our expansive vistas and long-distance freeway commutes – not so much! I cling to the belief that such cars do more bad than good for N. American’s adoption of electrified transportation. So it’s a good thing they’re not pushing it hard here, and only 80+ have sold. Mitsu? Focus your advertising dollars on AZ and FL retirement communities. What a step up if they’d adopt the little… Read more »
@James: A big fan of the i? It sure doesn’t sound like it. Have you actually driven one? I test drove it, freeways and all, the same day I took a Prius C4 out for a spin, and found the i overall a smoother, quieter, more pleasant experience. The Prius C had an edge maneuvering through traffic on the freeway (if that’s what you’re into), a tad more reserve power at those speeds, but otherwise I’d say the i had it beat in terms of driving experience. Granted, the interior was decidedly more “low rent”, but then it was (after the $7500 tax credit) the cheaper car, and by a good margin. The left-handed compliment of calling the i-MiEV a superior alternative to a golf cart is inexcusable. Behind the wheel, the i’s driving experience bests many small cars I’ve driven, and while “dinky” on the outside, it’s plenty roomy on the inside, and that includes 4 adult passengers PLUS a usable trunk (more than I can say for a Fiat 500, Mini, or SmartForTwo). It’s no toy, and suggesting otherwise is a lie by implication. For folks who want an EV for a commuter and knock-around errand car, what’s… Read more »

Another suggestion for Mitsu: SELL THE CUTE!

Cute sells. Just look at all the Fiat 500s buzzing around lately. In my eye, those cars are ridicuous. Poor mileage, poor dynamics – even a dash that when you press it with your fingers, dimples like a one litre Coke bottle! Just buy a Mini for God’s sakes! But cute sells. Run ads with a smiley face pasted under the headlights and say ” Say hi to the “i” ” – or just ” Hi! “…. Make sure there’s daisies and flowers around it ( for the environment ).

Mostly this appeals to women and those males who won’t be reproducing… But it does sell product. My mother bought a New Beetle and now wants another to go along with it because of it’s cuteness. VW ditched the flower vase in the Beetle – HEY MITSU > add a flower vase and cutesy bright interior colors!

Not many SmartEVs will sell here – and not many i’s will either, but if they take my advice they can, at least move their meager inventories.

I think your right on the marketing angle. Cute does sell. Also, it would probably do well marketed as strictly a city car.

The MiEV is a very affordable vehicle but as Tesla has found the rich are the first to adapt to new tech like EVs and the Tesla S is sold out for the next year, even at 3 times the cost.

I have a LEAF and they will all be made in Smyrna TENN starting in DEC 2012. Nissan said they could have a significant price drop once they are USA made. They also have the eNV200 and infinity version coming out in early 2013. Nissan seems to have a big lead so far.