David Motton

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MITSUBISHI WILL OFFER caravanners a choice of diesel orhybrid towcars when the new Outlander arrives in showrooms next year. Practical Caravan has been talking toLance Bradley, managing director at Mitsubishi Motors, about the innovative newhybrid in particular.

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Speaking at the Paris motor show last week, Bradley (pictured above) confirmed that the new Outlander PHEV will be homologated for towing. “Expect a towing limit around two-thirds that of the diesel Outlander.” Practical Caravan spoke to a senior exec from Mitsubishi in Japan who told us he expected the towing limit to be confirmed as 1500kg. That’s low for a 4x4, but still enough to tow many mid-sized tourers.

 

Even when hybrids have been homologated for towing, the high purchase price has been off-putting. A Lexus RX450h costs from £44,495, for example.

 

Bradley wouldn’t be drawn on how much the Outlander PHEV will cost – not surprising when the price of the diesel model hasn’t been announced – but he is keenly aware that the car will have to be priced carefully to sell.

 

“We have looked closely at what other people are charging for their hybrids and have been surprised by the price premium,” said Bradley. “Our hybrid will cost more than the diesel, but for the right customer the running cost savings will cover the extra purchase price over three years.”

 

The government’s £5000 grant for low-carbon vehicles will apply to the Outlander PHEV, so buyers will be able to recoup some of the price premium straightaway.

 

The Outlander PHEV is the world's first production plug-in hybrid SUV. As ‘plug-in’ implies, the Outlander’s battery can be recharged from an external power source when the car is parked.  That makes the PHEV well suited to drivers who regularly commute relatively short distances, and so can rely on electric power alone for their daily journeys, topping the battery each night for a fraction of what it would cost to fuel a petrol or diesel car. “Our car will travel up to 30 miles on the electric motors alone. It will be fabulously cheap to run for anyone driving 30 miles or less every day,” Bradley said.

 

Since the Outlander PHEV has a petrol engine as well as electric motors, it avoids the problem of limited range which makes pure electric vehicles like the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Nissan Leaf impractical for drivers who regularly tackle long journeys. With a 30-mile all-electric range matched to a total claimed range of 547 miles or more, Bradley argues that the Outlander PHEV offers the advantages of an electric vehicle while tackling the obvious drawbacks. “People are worried about cost, people are worried about the range. The PHEV will address these concerns."

 

However, Mitsubishi’s UK boss is refreshingly honest in admitting that the hybrid won’t be the best choice for everyone. “One of the key things will be qualifying customers,” he admitted. “If you drive a lot of motorway miles or tow regularly you’ll be better off with a diesel.”

 

Just how many customers will choose the hybrid over the diesel is uncertain. “It could be a quarter, it could be half,” said Bradley. Whatever the true split, the towing market is very important to Mitsubishi and the new Outlander range. “Around half the current Outlanders we sell leave dealers with a towball already fitted,” said Bradley. “We’d like to at least match that with the new Outlander.”

 

Bradley acknowledged that in making the new Outlander diesel lighter its 85% match figure has dropped compared with its predecessor (85% of the kerbweight being a sensible limit for safe and secure towing as recommended by both major caravanning clubs). However, he sees this as a challenge for the caravan industry to respond to.

 

“The motor industry has been under huge pressure to make vehicles lighter and more efficient. We can’t make heavier cars. So caravans are going to have to get lighter.”

 

The new Outlander diesel goes on sale in April 2013 with the PHEV following in July or August.

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