Clovis News

Clovis rental company tests teeny electric cars

It's itty-bitty tiny, the steering wheel is on the "wrong" side, there's no gas tank, and you can't buy it in the U.S. -- yet.

But Japanese carmaker Mitsubishi is already testing its all-electric iMiEV cars in America, including at a Clovis rental-fleet company, before the car goes on sale here late next year.

Eckhaus Fleet, which brokers fleet sales to rental car companies across the country, is midway through its two-week trial of the battery-powered car. Mitsubishi is one of the manufacturers Eckhaus deals with.

"Rental companies are a great test bed for cars because they drive them in all kinds of situations," said Tim Yopp, chief technology officer for Eckhaus. Yopp said Eckhaus has been involved in testing and marketing electric cars for about 10 years.

Mitsubishi has also scattered some of its iMiEV cars across the country with utility companies and other fleet users.

The white-and-blue iMiEV -- the acronym stands for Mitsubishi Innovative Electric Vehicle, with the "i" tacked on for good measure -- is powered by batteries under the floorboard and an electric motor under the back seat. Mitsubishi claims a top speed of 81 mph and a range of up to 80 miles on an overnight charge.

To "fill 'er up" means hooking the iMiEV to a power outlet. It comes with cords for either 110-volt or 220-volt household current for an overnight charge; there's also a quick-charge capacity that Mitsubishi says can juice the batteries to 80% in about 20 minutes.

The car in Clovis is the same model that has been on sale in Japan since last year, complete with right-hand drive that takes Americans a little getting used to. Eckhaus representatives have been trotting the car around Clovis and Fresno on errands and showing it to local fleet managers and city officials. The iMiEV and its handlers will be at Fresno City Hall today.

Shawn Miller, business development manager for the city of Clovis, drove the iMiEV and declared himself surprised.

"I could see myself using one to get back and forth to work and between the office and City Hall," Miller said. "But it feels a little, you know, foreign, because it doesn't make any noise and there's no vibration. ... It's kind of a cool sensation."

Eckhaus Fleet owner Mark Eckhaus, who collects exotic cars including a Dodge Viper, a Ford GT and a reproduction Shelby Cobra, said the iMiEV is the first all-electric car he's tried that "actually feels like a car" instead of a golf cart.

Eckhaus representatives say they expect to test the American iMiEV model, too. When it comes to the U.S., it will have conventional left-side controls and likely have a beefier look because of American safety standards. It will be a few inches wider to include side-impact protection, and a few inches longer to accommodate a bumper that, according to artist renderings on the Mitsubishi website, will give the vehicle a more aggressive and less, well, bubbly appearance.

Yopp said Mitsubishi expects to sell the iMiEV in America for about $28,000, but added that different state and federal rebates for zero-emission vehicles will likely take the out-of-pocket price to less than $20,000.