Mitsubishi turned 90 years old today and topped off the occasion by further underscoring its commitment to be a big player in electric cars.
MItsubishi Motors plans to have launched eight all-electrics and plug-in hybrids by the middle of 2015. The company came out with the MiEV, an all-electric freeway legal car, in Japan in 2009 and in the third quarter will release the i, a fatter version of the MiEV for U.S. consumers. That leaves six to go.
Like Nissan, Mitsubishi is betting on demand for electrics to help it gain market share over more dominant rivals like Toyota and Honda. At the Los Angeles Auto Show last November, the company served notice that it would challenge Nissan directly. The i will be priced at $30,000, or around $3,000 less than the Leaf right now.
Electrics will constitute 20 percent of Mitsubishi’s global shipments by 2020, said Shinichi Kurihara, CEO of Mitsubishi Motors America said in LA last year. By 2015, it wants to have sold 20,000 electrics in the States. (Mitsubishi, by the way, came out with an electric car in 1971 in Japan. It didn’t go mainstream, in part, because batteries took up too much room and didn’t have adequate power. The company also made an electric version of the Mitsubishi Colt in 2004 before deciding in 2005 to take an electric car to mass production. In 2006, work began on the MiEV.). Here's a test drive of the MiEV outside of Tokyo last year:
Cars won't be the only focus. The conglomerate has also set targets for energy efficient air conditioners and other components.
Can energy efficiency and alternative power revive Japan Inc.? Many in the country hope so. Panasonic launched an effort last year to become the largest name in green electronics by 2018, its hundredth anniversary. As part of the push, it bought Sanyo, the maker of solar panels and lithium ion batteries. Even Sony has come out with battery packs for utilities. Japan's push in power began in the 1970s following the Arab oil embargoes.
While the technology exists, it is an open question whether the conglomerates can move rapidly to capitalize on their strengths.