‘We’re not in Norway’: Mitsubishi Australia CEO explains why they won’t bring a full EV

As one of Australia’s most popular automakers, Mitsubishi has held back internationally from launching a mainstream electric vehicle. Instead of jumping on battery electric vehicles, Mitsubishi Australia wants to stick with PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) technology… At least for now.

In Japan, Mitsubishi recently launched the eK X, a short-range electric vehicle for city driving, developed alongside an identical Nissan model (Mitsubishi, Nissan and Renault have a strategic alliance). It’s not something you’d expect to come to Australia, with limited range and speed, but that’s the point. Currently, Mitsubishi does not see electric vehicles as a good choice for the Australian market.

During a recent press trip to Adelaide with Mitsubishi, I had the opportunity to speak with Shaun Westcott, the CEO of Mitsubishi Australia.

The Mitsubishi team showed the media footage of Westcott testing a new vehicle in the Simpson Desert. After talking to him, it’s clear that Westcott is a proponent of lower emissions, but why isn’t Mitsubishi going all-electric in Australia?

“Right now, if we were going to go pure electric, all we were really doing was moving the tailpipe issue to the power plant,” Westcott told Gizmodo Australia.

“We are in Australia. We are not in Norway, we are not in Europe.

Last year, it was reported that 24% of Australia’s energy grid was powered by renewables. In Norway, the example cited by Westcott, 98% of the network is made up of renewable energies.

It’s a dropper in every way, but it’s something we can work towards in Australia. As we reported earlier this week, the Australian Government has introduced legislation to reduce our emissions by 43% from 2005 and do so by 2030. We also reported that the ACT will phase out the gas power by 2045.

And that largely comes down to the transport sector.

In 2020, the Australian transport sector, as a whole, was reported to account for 18.9% of all emissions. This figure varies at the state level, which is why the ACT is so committed to phasing out gas-powered vehicles by 2035 (because the transportation sector accounts for the majority of emissions in the territory).

So why is Mitsubishi bringing back PHEV technology? Why didn’t Mitsubishi launch an electric competitor to the Hyundai Ioniq 5 or the Kia Niro?

“At the moment we have insufficient charging infrastructure in this country,” Westcott said.

“It will take billions of dollars and a number of years to build all of this. Whether that money comes from private companies or whether it comes from government, it will take time to get there.

It’s hard to disagree with Westcott on this point in the Australian market. From a transition perspective, with 76% of our grid powered by fossil fuels, you’re really only transferring emissions from one sector to another by driving an electric vehicle.

Unless you charge your electric vehicle from your own renewable energy, which many users do. Australia has the most solar power per capita of any country in the world, and when considering daily driving distances, Australian car owners typically drive 34 kilometers per day on average (which largely defuses the argument that electric vehicles have a lower range).

Mitsubishi Australia is sticking with a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle for now, despite releasing the I-MiEV in the 200s. Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

The Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross (from last year) and the upcoming Outlander use a battery-and-gas-powered approach first. Where other PHEVs can run battery and gasoline engines synchronously, Mitsubishi’s gasoline engine works like a generator, converting fossil fuels into battery power.

If you’re going really fast, the gas engine will start delivering power to the front wheels, but for most uses it can be a working electric car, charged in the garage with the gas engine turned off at speeds below 70 km/h (although the new Outlander’s battery only provides an 84 km range without battery-powered gasoline generation).

“Our customers use our previous-generation Outlander in all-electric mode 84% of the time,” Westcott added.

“Other research shows that only 19% of Australians…are ready to go straight to EV, right now, today.

“What we believe is that our technology enables people to make the transition. It enables them to experience electric vehicles and the benefits of electric vehicles, without having range anxiety, without having to to worry about a charging station… I think that gives you the best of both worlds. We need to inform, educate and expose, what we think PHEV allows us to do. It allows us to reduce emissions of 84% now with zero dollars spent on infrastructure.”

Westcott was able to confirm that Mitsubishi is moving towards rolling out PHEV technology across its brand (including in the upcoming RALLIART revival), although he was unable to provide a timeline.

But how long has the PHEV concept had in Australia? What will it take and how long will it take for Australian cars to become fully electric?

Australia doesn’t have fuel efficiency standards, which EV lobbyists say are key to unlocking the EV market in the country, and it’s true that we haven’t built a huge range public charging stations for electric cars.

Although there is enthusiasm to change this, we will probably wait for some time, just as we will have to wait for the Australian grid to become more dependent on renewables.

The future may be electric, but it will take time to get there.

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