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Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV, the world's best-selling plug-in-hybrid SUV, features innovative technology to provide welcome performance and family-friendly, fuel efficient all-wheel-drive capability. The combination of a gasoline engine and two electric motors, lithium-ion battery, and plug-in capability allows the Outlander PHEV to travel 310 miles on hybrid power and 22 all-electric miles on  a completely charged battery. The Outlander PHEV has an EPA rating of 25 city/highway combined mpg when operating on gasoline and 74 MPGe (miles-per-gallon equivalent) when operating on battery power.

The Mitsubishi Plug-in Hybrid EV System features three modes to achieve its unique series-parallel operation. Plus, there’s the ability to select up to six levels of regenerative braking to tailor the driving experience.

An integral part of the vehicle’s plug-in hybrid drivetrain is a Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing Electronic Control (MIVEC) engine that combines maximum power output, low fuel consumption, and a high level of clean performance. This 2.0-liter, 16-valve DOHC engine produces 117 horsepower at 4,500 rpm and 137 lb-ft torque at 4,500 rpm. It drives an electric generator that supplies electricity to the vehicle’s lithium-ion battery or directly to the electric motors. Each of its two AC synchronous permanent magnetic motors are rated at 80 horsepower (60 kW). A maximum combined 197 horsepower is available. The lack of  a driveshaft or transfer case means response and control much faster than a  traditional 4WD setup.

A 12 kilowatt-hour, high-energy density, lithium-ion battery is located beneath the floor where it contributes to a low center of gravity and stable driving performance. This battery can be charged in 10 hours with a household Level 1, 110-volt source or four hours with a Level 2, 240-volt charger. Using DC Fast Charging that’s available at commercial charging facilities, the Outlander PHEV will charge up to 80 percent capacity in as little as 25 minutes. The Outlander PHEV holds the distinction as being the first PHEV capable of DC Fast Charging capability.

The  Outlander PHEV’s parallel-series hybrid features three operating modes that are automatically selected for maximum efficiency, according to the driving conditions. These modes are EV Drive, Series Hybrid, and Parallel-Series.

In the EV Drive mode the Outlander is powered exclusively by the electric motors, with no battery charging except from regenerative braking. EV Drive is used for medium- to low-speeds during city driving. The two electric motors power the Outlander when operating in Series Hybrid mode, except when battery power is low or quick acceleration or hill climbing is needed. Then, the gasoline engine automatically starts to drive the generator and provide electric power for the electric motors to augment battery power. The engine-generator also charges the battery.

In Parallel Hybrid mode the gasoline engine supplies power to the front wheels with the two electric motors adding additional power as needed. The engine also charges the battery pack in Parallel Hybrid mode under certain driving conditions. At high speeds, the Parallel Hybrid mode is more efficient since internal combustion engines operate with greater efficiency than  electric motors at high rpms.

A driver can also choose Charge Mode so the generator charges the lithium-ion battery at any time. Save Mode conserves the battery charge for later use. EV Priority Mode, which can be used at any time, ensures the gasoline engine only runs when maximum power is required. Mitsubishi’s Twin Motor  S-AWC integrated control system delivers optimal power and control by managing Active Yaw Control (AYC), an Anti-lock braking system (ABS), and Active Stability Control (ASC) with Traction Control (TCL).

No matter the hybrid mode, whenever the Outlander PHEV decelerates regenerative braking charges the battery to augment electric driving range. There are six levels of regenerative braking –B1 to B5 plus a B0 coast  mode – that are conveniently selected by a pair of paddles behind the steering wheel. Regenerative braking strength can also be selected by console-mounted controls. Automatic Stop and Go (AS&G) automatically stops and restarts the engine when the vehicle stops, further conserving fuel.     

The Outlander PHEV benefits from Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing Electronic Control system (MIVEC) technology that controls valve timing and amount of lift to achieve optimum power output, low fuel consumption, and low exhaust emissions. MIVEC adjusts intake air volume by varying intake valve lift stroke and throttle valves, reducing pumping losses and thus improving fuel efficiency. The MIVEC engine improves fuel consumption through other strategies, including improvement of combustion stability through optimization of the combustion chamber and reduction of friction through optimization of the piston structure.

There are challenges ahead even as electric pickups are poised to enter a potentially enthusiastic market. Those challenges could mean a more gradual market trajectory than that of electric sedans and SUVs, which have already taken quite some time to gather momentum. For example, cars and SUVs used for commuting or running errands are typically driven less than 40 miles daily, with occasional trips of several hundred miles with passengers. That’s a reasonable and flexible duty cycle for electric passenger vehicles. It’s different for trucks.

With the exception of work trucks in urban areas, pickups in many rural areas travel hundreds of miles every day without refueling. That’s not an issue for conventionally powered pickups with their considerable driving range. It could be for coming electric pickups since their battery range is about half that of most full-size gas pickups. When conventional pickups do need to refuel, it takes but a few minutes to fill up with gasoline compared with the hours required for electrics. Realistically, it's difficult to see electric pickups meeting the duty cycles of work trucks like these until fast charging becomes widespread, especially in rural areas.

Towing presents additional food for thought. It’s well-known that fuel economy, and thus range, is reduced when conventional vehicles tow trailers, boats, or any load. Range is impacted more dramatically in electric vehicles, a fact that could make electric pickups less desirable for towing a boat or heavy load any significant distance since charging would likely be required every couple hundred miles. Illustrating the challenge is that towing a 5000 pound trailer with a Tesla Model X or Audi e-tron has been shown to result in a range reduction of up to 40 percent. Increasing range by adding batteries in an electric pickup may bring longer range, but it also means reducing payload and towing capacity pound for pound.

Looking at the demographics of pickup owners and comparing this with available charging stations presents a stark reality. The 13 states where pickups represent 25 percent or more of new vehicle sales have about 2600 public charging stations, less than 10 percent of all public charging stations in the country. That’s quite a disconnect. These are typically large states where long distance travel is the rule. This underscores the importance of charging opportunities and the formidable challenges electric pickups may face in areas where charging infrastructure is behind the curve.

Another challenge is maintenance. Even though electric pickups require significantly less maintenance than their gasoline or diesel counterparts, there are times when EV-specific service will be required. While the usual tire, brake, and fluid maintenance can be performed by mainstream service providers, electric pickup manufacturers must provide for other potential servicing involving an electric drivetrain, on-board electronics, and the many other controls and systems unique to an electric vehicle. That’s not a significant issue for legacy automakers like Ford and GM that have a widespread dealer sales and service network, even in sparsely populated states. Service personnel at dealerships can be trained in EV-specific work. Fledgling and start-up electric pickup companies will certainly be at a disadvantage here.

Will electric pickups succeed? Time will tell. Plus, we’ll have to see how some wishful launch schedules align with reality since COVID-19 has caused auto manufacturing delays and shutdowns. Plus, with today’s extraordinarily low gas prices, the value equation for electrics of any kind is skewed, at least for the present time. That doesn’t mean there won’t be demand for electric pickups…just that expectations for timing and market penetration should be tempered.

The driving range of electric vehicles is becoming less of an issue as they surpass 200 miles or greater, approaching the distance between fill-ups of some internal combustion engine vehicles…or maybe the bladder capacity of their drivers. However, the time it takes to recharge an EV is still a negative attribute.

Generally, EVs charge at a fairly slow rate. A 240-volt Level 2 home or public charger will charge a Chevy Bolt from depleted to full in about 4 1/2 hours, providing a range of about 238 miles. That’s a far cry from 5 minutes to fill a gas tank. It’s significantly slower when charging a Bolt with a Level 1 charger using a household’s standard 120-volt power since this adds only about 4 miles an hour!

Of course, charging companies and automakers are working together to expand the small-but-growing network of fast chargers in key areas of the country, allowing EVs to gain up to 90 miles of charge in around 30 minutes. Tesla claims that its Supercharger stations being upgraded to Version 3 can charge a Tesla Model 3 Long Range at the rate of about 15 miles a minute, or 225 miles in just over 15 minutes under best conditions.

If current technology EVs become popular for mid- to long-range travel, gasoline stations, truck stops, and public charging stations equipped with Level 2 and even somewhat faster chargers run the very real risk of becoming parking lots.

Photo: EVgo

When it comes to charging EVs, charging times come down to kilowatts available. The best Tesla V3 charger is rated at 250 kilowatts peak charge rate. Now, much research is being done here and in other countries on what is called Extreme Fast Charging (XFC) involving charge rates of 350-400 kilowatts or more. The U.S. Department of Energy is sponsoring several projects aimed at reducing battery pack costs, increasing range, and reducing charging times.

There are several challenges for XFCs. First, when lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are fast charged, they can deteriorate and overheat. Tesla already limits the number of fast charges by its standard Superchargers because of battery degradation, and that’s only at 120-150 kilowatts. Also, when kilowatt charging rates increase voltage and/or amperage increases, which can have a detrimental effect on cables and electronics.

This begs the question: Is the current electrical infrastructure capable of supporting widespread use of EVs? Then, the larger question is whether the infrastructure is capable of handling XFC with charging rates of 350 kilowatts or more. This is most critical in urban areas with large numbers of EVs and in rural areas with limited electric infrastructure.

The answer is no. Modern grid infrastructures are not designed to supply electricity at a 350+ kilowatt rate, so costly grid upgrades would be required. Additionally, communities would be disrupted when new cables and substations have to be installed. There would be a need for costly and time-consuming environmental studies.

One approach being is XFC technology being developed by Zap&Go in the UK and Charlotte, North Carolina. The heart of Zap&Go's XFC is carbon-ion (C-Ion) energy storage cells using nanostructured carbons and ionic liquid-based electrolytes. C-Ion cells provide higher energy densities than conventional supercapacitors with charging rates 10 times faster than current superchargers. Supercapacitors and superchargers are several technologies being considered for XFCs.

According to Zap&Go, the C-Ion cells do not overheat and since they do not use lithium, cobalt, or any materials that can catch fire, there is no fire danger. Plus, they can be recycled at the end of their life, which is about 30 years. Zap&Go's business model would use its chargers to store electric energy at night and at off-peak times, so the current grid could still be used. Electrical energy would be stored in underground reservoirs similar to how gasoline and diesel fuels are now stored at filling stations. EVs would then be charged from the stored energy, not directly from the grid, in about the same time it takes to refuel with gasoline.

The fastest charging would work best if C-Ion cell batteries are installed in an EV, replacing Li-ion batteries. EVs with Li-ion batteries could also be charged, but not as quickly. Alternatively, on-board XFC cells could be charged in about five minutes, then they would charge an EV’s Li-ion batteries at a slower rate while the vehicle is driven, thereby preserving the life of the Li-ion battery. The downside is that this would add weight, consume more room, and add complexity. Zap&Go plans to set up a network of 500 ultrafast-charge charging points at filling stations across the UK.

General Motors is partnering with Delta Electronics, DOE, and others to develop XFSs using solid-state transformer technology. Providing up to 400 kilowatts of power, the system would let properly equipped electric vehicles add 180 miles of range in about 10 minutes. Since the average American drives less than 30 miles a day, a single charge could provide a week’s worth of driving.

The extreme charging time issue might be partly solved by something already available: Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). As governments around the world consider banning or restricting new gasoline vehicles in favor of electric vehicles, they should not exclude PHEVs. Perhaps PHEVs could be designed so their internal combustion engines could not operate until their batteries were depleted, or their navigation system determines where they could legally operate on electric or combustion power.

DRIVETHEARC EV fast charging corridor breaks ground in northernEVgo, which maintains the largest network of DC fast chargers in the U.S., reports it has experienced a significant increase in use by electric vehicle drivers over the past two years. In 2016, the company says its network of chargers delivered enough electricity to enable 22 million miles of battery electric driving, with that number increasing to 40 million miles in 2017. Some 1.1 million charging sessions occurred in 2017. EVgo points to the expanding number of EV models available to consumers and an overall increase in the number of electric vehicles on our highways as driving an increasing need for public fast charging.

The company’s fast-charge network now numbers over 1,000 in 66 markets across the country. Its DC fast chargers are typically located in major metro and retail areas to make charging convenient for plug-in drivers.

In addition, EVgo has collaborated with others to complete key charging networks in 2017 that serve the needs of EV drivers wishing longer-distance travel. This includes Northern California’s ‘DRIVEtheARC’ corridor that enables fast charging in the San Francisco Bay Area, Monterey Peninsula, Lake Tahoe, and Sacramento regions. Along with EVgo, the partnership includes the State of California’s Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, Nissan, Kanematsu, and Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO).

"Nissan is determined to widely spread EV use to help benefit the environment on global basis. The U.S. is among the top markets in the world for EV sales, and California represents a staggering 40 percent of all EV sales in the country, making the state the catalyst for furthering the adoption of EVs into the future," said Hitoshi Kawaguchi, Chief Sustainability Officer of Nissan Motor. "An adequate public charging network is one of the key factors for EV expansion. Northern California has a diverse geography but until now did not possess a true inter-city EV fast charging network. We are excited to implement this network and study EV use in Northern California so that we can apply the lessons we learn to future fast charging network projects around the world."

nissan-evgo-a95-arcIt’s looking like Tesla doesn’t have a lock on the fast-charging that encourages longer-distance electric vehicle journeys. While clearly in catch-up mode, a number of automakers are partnering with charging providers to install fast-charge stations at key points along major transportation routes. The latest is a partnership between Nissan and EVgo that will enable rapid charging at strategically located stops between Boston and Washington DC.

The 'I95 Fast-Charge ARC' (Advanced Recharging Corridor) will include nine charging sites along 500 miles of Interstate 95 with a total of 50 DC fast-chargers, each offering two fast-charge plugs each. Since technology marches on, the stations will have a capability of charging four or more EVs simultaneously at a power output of 50kW, with pre-wiring to enable easy upgrades for charging at up to 150kW once the technology is available consumer stations.

The Boston-DC project follows a similar project in California. With construction already underway, completion is expected in time for the launch of the all-new Nissan LEAF.

There’s something almost magical about plugging your car into an outlet at night and waking up to a full ‘tank’ in the morning. There’s no need for a stop at the gas station, ever. Plus, there’s no nagging guilt that the miles metered out by the odometer are counting off one’s contribution toward any societal and environmental ills attendant with fossil fuel use.

This is a feeling experienced during the year Green Car Journal editors drove GM’s remarkable EV1 electric car in the late 1990s. Daily drives in the EV1 were a joy. The car was sleek, high-tech, distinctive, and with the electric motor’s torque coming on from zero rpm, decidedly fast. That’s a potent combination.

ev1-rolling-chassis-1The EV1 is long gone, not because people or companies ‘killed’ it as the so-called documentary Who Killed the Electric Car suggested, but rather because extraordinarily high costs and a challenging business case were its demise. GM lost many tens of thousands of dollars on every EV1 it built, as did other automakers complying with California’s Zero EmissionsVehicle (ZEV) mandate in the 1990s.

Even today, Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne says his company loses $14,000 for every Fiat 500e electric car sold. Combine that with today’s need for an additional $7,500 federal tax credit and up to $6,000 in subsidies from some states to encourage EV purchases, and it’s easy to see why the electric car remains such a challenge.

Fiat 500 BEV

This isn’t to say that electric cars are the wrong idea. On the contrary, they are perceived as important to our driving future, so much so that government, automakers, and their suppliers see electrification as key to meeting mandated 2025 fleet-wide fuel economy requirements and CO2 reduction goals. The problem is that there’s no singular, defined roadmap for getting there because costs, market penetration, and all-important political support are future unknowns.

The advantages of battery electric vehicles are well known – extremely low per-mile operating costs on electricity, less maintenance, at-home fueling, and of course no petroleum use. Add in the many societal incentives available such as solo driving in carpool lanes, preferential parking, and free public charging, and the case for electrics gets even more compelling. If a homeowner’s solar array is offsetting the electricity used to energize a car’s batteries for daily drives, then all the better. This is the ideal scenario for a battery electric car. Of course, things are never this simple, otherwise we would all be driving electric.

Ford Focus ElectricThere remain some very real challenges. Government regulation, not market forces, has largely been driving the development of the modern electric car. This is a good thing or bad, depending upon one’s perspective. The goal is admirable and to some, crucial – to enable driving with zero localized emissions, eliminate CO2 emissions, reduce oil dependence, and drive on an energy source created from diverse resources that can be sustainable. Where’s the downside in that?

Still, new car buyers have not stepped up to buy battery electric cars in expected, or perhaps hoped-for, numbers, especially the million electric vehicles that Washington had set out as its goal by 2015. This is surprising to many since electric vehicle choices have expanded in recent years. However, there are reasons for this.

RAV4 EV Action Right

Electric cars are often quite expensive in comparison to their gasoline-powered counterparts, although government and manufacturer subsidies can bring these costs down. Importantly, EVs offer less functionality than conventional cars because of limited driving range that averages about 70 to 100 miles before requiring a charge. While this zero-emission range can fit the commuting needs of many two-vehicle households and bring substantial fuel savings, there’s a catch. Factoring future fuel savings into a vehicle purchase decision is simply not intuitive to new car buyers today.

Many drivers who would potentially step up to electric vehicle ownership can’t do so because most electric models are sold only in California or a select number of ‘green’ states where required zero emission vehicle credits are earned. These states also tend to have at least a modest charging infrastructure in place. Manufacturers selling exclusively in these limited markets typically commit to only small build numbers, making these EVs fairly insignificant in influencing electric vehicle market penetration.

bmw-i3

Battery electric vehicles available today include the BMW i3, BMW i8, Chevrolet Spark EV, Fiat 500e, Ford Focus Electric, Honda Fit EV, Kia Soul EV, Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Nissan LEAF, Smart ForTwo Electric Drive, Tesla Model S, Toyota RAV4 EV, and VW e-Golf. While most aim at limited sales, some like BMW, Nissan, and Tesla market their EVs nationwide. The Honda Fit EV and Toyota RAV4 EV are being phased out. Fleet-focused EVs are also being offered by a small number of independent companies. Other battery electrics are coming.

BMW’s i3 offers buyers an optional two-cylinder gasoline range extender that generates on-board electricity to double this electric car’s battery electric driving range. A growing number of electrified models like the current generation Prius Plug-In and Chevy Volt can also run exclusively on battery power for a more limited number of miles (10-15 for the Prius and up to 40 miles in the Volt), and then drive farther with the aid of a combustion engine or engine-generator. Both will offer greater all-electric driving range when they emerge as all-new 2016 models. Many extended range electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids like these are coming soon from a surprising number of auto manufacturers.

coda-evIt has been an especially tough road for independent or would-be automakers intent on introducing electric vehicles to the market. Well-funded efforts like Coda Automotive failed, as have many lesser ones over the years. Often enough, inventors of electric cars have been innovative and visionary, only to discover that becoming an auto manufacturer is hugely expensive and more challenging than imagined. In many cases their timeline from concept and investment to production and sales becomes so long that before their first cars are produced, mainstream automakers have introduced models far beyond what they were offering, and at lesser cost with an established sales and service network to support them.

A high profile exception is Tesla Motors, the well-funded Silicon Valley automaker that successfully built and sold its $112,000 electric Tesla Roadster, continued its success with the acclaimed $70,000-$100,000+ Model S electric sedan, and will soon deliver its first Tesla Model X electric crossovers. While Tesla has said it would offer the Model X at a price similar to that of the Model S, initial deliveries of the limited Model X Signature Series will cost a reported $132,000-$144,000. It has not yet been announced when lower cost 'standard' Model X examples will begin deliveries to Tesla's sizable customer pre-order list.

tesla-model-sTesla’s challenge is not to prove it can produce compelling battery electric cars, provide remarkable all-electric driving range, or build a wildly enthusiastic – some would say fanatical – customer base. It has done all this. Its challenge is to continue this momentum by developing a full model lineup that includes a promised affordable model for the masses, its Model 3, at a targeted $35,000 price tag. It will be interesting to see if the Model 3 ultimately comes to market at that price point.

This is no easy thing. Battery costs remain very high and, in fact, Tesla previously shared that the Tesla Roadster’s battery pack cost in the vicinity of $30,000. While you can bury the cost of an expensive battery pack in a high-end electric car that costs $70,000 to over $100,000, you can’t do that today in a $35,000 model, at least not one that isn’t manufacturer subsidized and provides the 200+ mile range expected of a Tesla.

tesla-model-xThe company’s answer is a $5 billion ‘Gigafactory’ being built in Nevada that it claims will produce more lithium-ion batteries by 2020 than were produced worldwide in 2013. The company’s publicized goal is to trim battery costs by at least 30 percent to make its $35,000 electric car a reality and support its growing electric car manufacturing. Tesla has said it’s essential that the Gigafactory is in production as the Model 3 begins manufacturing. The billion dollar question is…can they really achieve the ambitious battery and production cost targets to do this over the next few years, or will this path lead to the delays that Tesla previously experienced with the Tesla Roadster, Model S, and Model X?

Tesla is well-underway with its goal of building out a national infrastructure of SuperCharger fast-charge stations along major transportation corridors to enable extended all-electric driving. These allow Tesla vehicles the ability to gain a 50 percent charge in about 20 minutes, although they are not compatible with other EVs. For all others, Bosch is undertaking a limited deployment of its sub-$10,000 DC fast charger that provides an 80 percent charge in 30 minutes. A joint effort by ChargePoint, BMW, and VW also aims to create express charging corridors with fast-charge capability on major routes along both coasts in the U.S.

chargepoint-chargerThe past 25 years have not secured a future for the battery electric car, but things are looking up. The next 10 years are crucial as cost, infrastructure, and consumer acceptance challenges are tackled and hopefully overcome to make affordable, unsubsidized electric cars a mass-market reality. It is a considerable challenge. Clearly, a lot of people are counting on it.

DC Fast ChargeExpanding the driving range capabilities of electric cars through fast charging is of growing interest. Tesla has keyed in on this with its high-profile Supercharger network of fast chargers along major transportation corridors. While this is great for Tesla owners, it’s not a comfort to drivers of other EVs since the SuperCharger network is not compatible with their cars.

Enter ChargePoint, VW, and BMW, which have joined together to offer similar capabilities for other electric vehicle models. The three are developing express electric vehicle charging corridors with fast charging stations that allow EV drivers to recapture up to an 80 percent charge in just 20 minutes. Fast charging sites will be strategically spaced no more than 50 miles apart to make longer trips possible for EVs that incorporate a DC fast charging capability.

Initial efforts will focus on heavily-traveled routes on the East and West Coasts, providing 100 DC fast chargers at existing ChargePoint sites. The aim is to expand fast charging capabilities to other sites within the ChargePoint network, which already offers more than 20,000 charging spots in North America. EV drivers can access the network with a ChargePoint or ChargeNow card or with the ChargePoint mobile app.

Available next month in California and Oregon, the new 2014 Spark EV 1LT can now be leased for as low as $199 per month for 36 months. Requiring a nominal $999 due at lease signing, which includes a security deposit but is exclusive of tax, title, and registration, now makes this small Chevy EV an affordable option for new car buyers interested in electric transportation.

The Chevy Spark EV's MSRP starts at $27,495 but is as low as $19,995 when factoring in an available $7,500 federal tax credit. Other state and local tax credits may be available to bring the price down further. Chevy says that compared to the average new gasoline-powered vehicle, the Spark EV can save drivers an average of $150 per month in fuel costs.

Driving range is an EPA estimated 82 miles, similar to that of other small EV models. Its combined fuel economy equivalent is rated by EPA at 119 MPGe. Charging with a Level 2 240-volt charger takes about seven hours and a 120-volt convenience charge cord comes standard, although charge time is considerably longer. Chevy points out that the Spark EV is the first electric vehicle on the market to offer an option to be charged via the recently approved SAE combo charger for DC Fast Charging, which will enable the Spark EV to recharge up to 80 percent of its capacity in 20 minutes. Of course, that’s when DC Fast Charging stations become available.

In-vehicle connectivity is well looked-after with Chevy’s MyLink infotainment system, which includes a seven-inch touch screen and integration with third-party apps and features such as Siri Eyes Free, Pandora, and BringGo navigation. These features require the user to purchase third party apps separately on a compatible smart phone. The Spark EV RemoteLink application, which requires a smart phone and OnStar subscription, provides an array of desired functions including charge status, scheduled charge timing, interior temperature pre-conditioning, and the ability to send a text or email for charge reminders.