Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is plugged into the future

The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, New Zealand's most popular electrified vehicle.
Rob Maetzig/stuff

The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, New Zealand's most popular electrified vehicle.

Read the articles in full - you might get the proper story.

Right now it seems many are only accepting half the facts on what's happening regarding acceptance of electric vehicles into the world's new car markets.

Fed a diet of such headlines as "Britain to ban sale of all diesel and petrol cars by 2040" and "Volvo to go all-electric with new models from 2019" and "Oil barons face a slow death by electrification", many are convinced that the new vehicle markets of the near future will be exclusively full electric cars.

The badging tells you that PHEV stands for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle.
Rob Maetzig/Stuff

The badging tells you that PHEV stands for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle.

But the truth is that the scenario isn't quite that.

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Little compartment under the rear load area houses the equipment necessary to charge the battery.
Rob Maetzig/Stuff

Little compartment under the rear load area houses the equipment necessary to charge the battery.

What car companies such as Sweden's Volvo are actually saying is that in future none of their vehicles will be without an electric motor. That means that while some of them will be pure electric vehicles, others will be plug-in hybrids and even ordinary petrol-electric hybrids.

And that's what the British government is saying too. It won't be banning hybrid cars either - it's just that like many other European countries it doesn't want any new vehicles on its roads that are powered solely by petrol or diesel engines.

Of course the takeup of fully electric cars may accelerate faster than experts are forecasting - it's all to do with what's known as critical mass. So what is happening now is that the car companies are preparing for this eventuality.

The Outlander PHEV is a standard-looking SUV, but underneath there's all sorts of wizardry.
Rob Maetzig/Stuff

The Outlander PHEV is a standard-looking SUV, but underneath there's all sorts of wizardry.

BMW is a classic example. Just a few days ago it announced that all its brands and model series can be electrified, with full-electric or plug-in hybrid drivetrains offered in addition to combustion engine options. The company added that its vehicle production system is also fully adaptable so that if required, it can quickly increase production of electric models to meet market developments.

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BMW forecasts that by 2025 electrified vehicles will account for up to 25 per cent of sales - but it adds that factors such as regulation, incentives and charging infrastructure will play a major role in determining the scale of this electrification from market to market.

It will be interesting to see what the EV scene will be like by the middle of the next decade. Given the rapid expansion of the charging station network, there will be fast-charge facilities all over the place. Not only that, but battery technology will have improved so that the so-called range anxiety will be less of an issue - for example, a few weeks ago Hyundai claimed it will launch a fully EV version of a new SUV called Kona that will have a range on an overnight charge of around 400km.

Not only that, but it may well be that vehicle design will have progressed so that instead of popping in your local service station to gas up as you do now, you'll call in to replace your vehicle's battery pack with a fully charged one.

All this future-forecasting came to mind this week as we spent a few days behind the wheel of New Zealand's biggest-selling plug-in electric vehicle, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV.

This is an impressive medium-sized SUV that offers the best of both worlds - under normal circumstances (as in the daily commute) it has sufficient battery charge to run as a pure EV all of the time via two 60kW electric motors, one for each axle; but for a longer trip a 2-litre petrol engine starts up that operates as a sort of power station on wheels, charging the 12kWh lithium-ion battery that feeds the electric motors.

And if going gets tougher - as in needing more grunt to get up hills or to pass slower vehicles - then the Mitsi turns into a conventional hybrid by combining both the electric motors and the petrol engine.

Lots of motorists now own an Outlander PHEV and they know that the process of keeping the battery charged is easy and economical. Each night they simply plug the vehicle in to an ordinary household power point, and it will take about 6.5 hours to fully charge. We're told that off-peak power supply rates run at an average of 17 cents per kilowatt hour, so that means the daily cost of charging the Mitsubishi is not much more than $1.

If the owner is running short of charge - and once the battery gets to less than 30 per cent of full charge the petrol motor will kick into life to generate more power - then he or she can always call into a fast-charge station to get the battery back to 80 per cent charge in about 20 minutes. Various other actions, such as a controllable level of regenerative braking, can also help maintain charge.

But during ordinary day-to-day use none of this needs to happen. The Outlander PHEV's range has recently been improved so it can run for up to 50km on a full charge, which is easily enough for most peoples' daily commute. That explains why Mitsubishi can claim an average petrol consumption of as low as 1.7 litres per 100km - the petrol engine simply doesn't need to be used much of the time.

Right now there are several other vehicles with electrified powertrains that are grabbing the publicity limelight, but it could be said that it is this Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV that is the real pointer to our electric motoring future. That's because more people are driving it than any other plug-in vehicle.

In doing so, they are happily preparing themselves and others for an electric future - and a time when maybe the headlines will ring entirely true.

 - Stuff

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