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EV set to tackle winter's worst

Tomoki Yanagawa, vice-president of Mitsubishi Motor Sales of Canada, and his i-MiEV.

michael vaughan The Globe and Mail

Mitsubishi plans to commercially launch its battery electric car next year, but for now there is exactly one on the road in Toronto. It's the daily driver of Tomoki Yanagawa, vice-president of Mitsubishi Motor Sales of Canada Inc.

The i-MiEV, which stands for Mitsubishi Innovative Electric Vehicle, is a four-passenger, urban commuter car. Mitsu plans to bring in a number of them for testing by the end of the year including 50 for Hydro Quebec to run all winter.

I went for a spin in the i-MiEV last week and found it to be roomy, peppy and very quiet. The company expects it to have a maximum range of 120 kilometres from high-capacity lithium ion batteries and an electric motor. It can certainly accelerate quickly to highway speeds. I even ran the air conditioning, but we'll have to see what kind of range it has in a cold Quebec winter.

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The i-MiEV is on sale now in Japan and my little tester was a right-hand drive Japanese production model. The price in Japan is ¥3.98-million, which is $42,000 Canadian. Total government subsidies in Japan can be up to ¥1.86-million, which brings the price there down to ¥2.12-million ($23,000 Canadian). Unfortunately there is no federal subsidy in Canada yet.

I've driven several all-electric cars over the years, but they have all been one-offs or prototypes. It's interesting to drive a true production car and notice the much higher level of refinement. For ride comfort and driving performance, this car was perfectly acceptable. The interior was well finished, too. But as I say, let's see how it does in winter.

Nissan building battery plant

Nissan has begun construction of a battery factory next to its main North American auto-assembly plant in Tennessee. By 2012, the factory will be able to supply lithium-ion battery packs for 200,000 electric cars a year.

Nissan-Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn is convinced there will be strong U.S. demand for electric vehicles. Nissan's $1.7-billion (U.S.) investment in battery and Leaf electric vehicle assembly capacity in Tennessee is funded mainly by a $1.4 billion loan from the U.S. government.

Nissan has collected nearly 13,000 deposits of $99 to reserve U.S. orders for the all-electric Leaf that will begin arriving from Japan at the end of this year. "The production for 2010 is already sold out," said Ghosn.

The Leaf, which does not have a back-up gas engine, is expected to cost around $25,000 after U.S. federal and state incentives. There has been no announcement to date of bringing the Leaf to Canada.

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Ghosn expects to sell as many as 500,000 electric globally by 2012.

Magna also plans to build batteries

Magna International Inc. is getting in on the move to electric cars. The company announced plans to invest as much as $600-million for two factories to produce lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles. Magna says one plant will be in Europe and the other will be in the United States.

Automotive industry expert Dennis DesRosiers commented, "It's a sad day in the automotive sector in Canada when our No. 1 parts supplier decides to build two battery plants and neither of them are in Canada."

N.Y. buying more hybrid police cars

The New York Police Department will more than double the number of hybrid vehicles in the fleet by the end of the year. The NYPD will have about 400 hybrids after it adds 150 Ford Fusion sedans and 90 Ford Escape hybrid SUVs.

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Last year, the department purchased 40 Nissan Altima hybrids to be used on patrol duty, alongside a fleet of Toyota Prius traffic patrol cars. "These new patrol cars will help fulfill the goal of reducing city government's carbon footprint," said New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The cop car of choice in Toronto, on the other hand, is the Ford Crown Victoria with a large V-8 engine that delivers about 29.4 to 19.6 litres/100 km under typical police driving conditions.

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Michael Vaughan is co-host with Jeremy Cato of Car/Business, which appears Fridays at 8 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 2 p.m. on CTV.

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