The drop in price comes with some new features, such as a battery warming system, heated side-view mirrors and a DC quick-charging port that uses the Japanese CHAdeMO standard.
The reduction in price brings the car from nearly $30,000 to about $23,000. With the federal tax credit, the price is $15,495.
Many of the upgraded features are stylistic, such as a leather-covered steering wheel. There is also an enhancement to the Level 1 charging cable. It can now switch between 8 and 12 amps. Charging at 12 amps cuts the 22 hours needed for a full charge down to about 14 hours.
The 20 percent price slash is similar to what other electric car makers have done. At the beginning of the year, for example, Nissan Leaf dropped its price by about 18 percent. Chevy and Ford also reduced the price of their electric offerings.
Mitsubishi didn’t even release a 2013 model i-MiEV in the U.S. because of slow sales, according to the website PluginCars. Conversely, the report notes that the Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid has been delayed in the U.S. because of robust demand for the vehicle in Europe and Japan. It won’t hit the U.S. market until at least 2015.
It’s not entirely surprising that Americans didn’t take to the small i-MiEV, no matter what the price. Although customers are increasingly focused on fuel efficiency, midsize sedans and utility vehicles still make up the bulk of the most popular cars in the U.S.
If customers can get over the initial sticker shock of electric vehicles, which are higher in price than comparable gas-powered cars, they would likely find that the lifetime operating costs are similar, as one study found.
As car makers bring down prices because of economies of scale and battery breakthroughs, the picture could become even rosier for EVs. There have also been efforts to finance Level 2 chargers at the time of the car purchase. Bosch recently introduced a charging station that's about half the price of most other Level 2 chargers on the market. But the question remains whether the capital costs of cars and chargers can come down fast enough as federal and state incentives are discontinued.
Other car makers are taking different approaches to making electric options appealing beyond just price cuts. BMW’s i3 will cost about $42,000, but has the option to add a range extender and allows drivers to borrow gas vehicles from BMW for longer trips. The company is banking that a concierge experience will be worth the price tag and alleviate range anxiety.
It is not clear exactly where the tipping point will be for electric vehicles, or if it will even come as conventional cars feature better fuel economy. But the increasing electric and plug-in hybrid options at different price points, and with different ownership features, could offer the market a boost in 2014.