MONTREAL – No matter what auto show these days, the words “autonomous” and “electric” are paramount. They are utilized in production sedans and SUVs, and especially concepts.
The 2019 Montreal International Auto Show (MIAS) is no different, but one automaker, Mitsubishi, is choosing a more rational, step-by-step approach to its future. That plan is bundled in one package called the e-Evolution Concept, that's been making its rounds globally in Tokyo, Geneva and Los Angeles, and now makes its Canadian debut in Montreal.
The e-Evolution Concept is Mitsubishi's electrified solution utilizing three electric motors in conjunction with a high-capacity battery system. The concept is pure electric, and that's just about the only thing that differs from the niche brand's strategy of focusing on what the company excels at: plug-in hybrid technology, utility vehicles and all-wheel drive.
Typically, a prototype tagged as a “special debut” would lose its lustre over a long timeframe, but Mitsubishi's commitment to it showcases how much the Japanese brand believes in what the e-Evolution represents for a bright future, well beyond environmental government subsidies.
“If the vehicle doesn't make sense, the subsidy will never be enough,” explains Vincent Cobee, executive planning officer at Mitsubishi Motors Corporation. “Our role is to keep people in the vehicle for driving enjoyment; not tax breaks.”
The latest Outlander plug-in hybrid (PHEV) SUV from Mitsubishi makes for a successful case study of the Canadian market with 5,000 plug-in Outlanders sold in 2018. It propelled the brand to achieve an 11% increase in year-over-year sales, compared to an industry average loss of 2.6%.
A large majority of its sales (47%), come from Quebec, which was a big reason for Mitsubishi's strong presence including Cobee at the MIAS.
“Mitsubishi's future plan towards plug-in hybrids works with today's environment and capabilities,” adds Cobee. “There's no range anxiety, you can still enjoy quick acceleration and smoothness in its drive, all the while feeling more responsible to the environment.”
As part of its electrified plan, Mitsubishi showcases an exceptional drive in the concept through its triple motor 4WD system. No specific numbers are provided, but Mitsubishi proclaimed its achievements in being both a smooth and powerful ride featuring high-torque electric motors – one in the front and two in the back – delivering nimble handling and crisp cornering thanks to a new Dual Motor Active Yaw Control system working hand-in-hand with the sophisticated Super All-Wheel Control.
And then there's artificial intelligence (AI), a secret ingredient Cobee calls, “an untapped resource that's just getting started.”
For the e-Evolution, an array of sensors allows the AI system to not only assess the ever-changing road and traffic conditions, but also monitor the skill and attentiveness of the driver. Advanced technologies can understand driver intent, and coach them to better improve driving skills for smoother, more efficient driving via visual cues and audio conversation.
Styling is another area where Mitsubishi must get it right. The concept takes on an updated design language from the Japanese brand's “Dynamic Shield” design featuring plenty of sharp angle cuts, black grille shielded under glass, a swept-back silhouette, as well as larger tires for that extra ride height.
Inside, is a technology hub that's entered through a wide double-door opening. As modern and flashy as the crossover looks, it once again doesn't come off as unrealistic with a large flat screen as wide as the dashboard, an unobstructed 360-degree visibility and a U-shaped steering wheel.
The Mitsubishi e-Evolution Concept is no fantasy, but a prototype signalling to the rest of the automotive world exactly how the Japanese brand plans to expand its global vehicle sales. For now, that's plug-in hybrids, but the pure electric e-Evolution shows that it could come in other forms. And that can only be enhanced with the company’s shared strategic alliance with Renault and Nissan.
Like all automotive prognosticators, Cobee doesn't have the answer for what powertrain technology or technologies will reign supreme in 5-10 years’ time, but the Mitsubishi answer for today, and the near future is without a doubt: plug-in hybrid.
“It's not a question, but the best solution,” Cobee extols.
Subsidies are a good starting point to get the ball rolling and create attention, but there comes a time and place, which has already happened in Ontario, where the vehicle has to stand on its own.
That time will soon come as technologies become cheaper and automakers sign more collaboration agreements. For now, the one thing we do know is the industry has strongly trended to SUVs and AWD in Canada, placing Mitsubishi and its well-rounded roster of utility vehicles, on the right track.
As for autonomous driving, Cobee concludes by saying it's “too easy” to say that a concept car has Level 4 or 5 autonomous technology, but that's “not necessarily close to a reality until 2025-2030...Except for dedicated autonomous bus and commercial lanes, going beyond Level 3 for passenger cars will take some time.”