TOKYO -- Mitsubishi Motors plans to introduce the Outlander PHEV to North America and Eastern Europe as early as this year, expanding the global footprint for the plug-in hybrid sport utility vehicle.
The Japanese automaker produces the Outlander PHEV domestically and already sells the vehicle in the home market and Western Europe. Adding more markets positions the company to catch the next wave in green cars as stronger environmental regulations leave regular hybrids in the ditch in favor of plug-in hybrids and purely electric vehicles.
As Mitsubishi Motors extends the Outlander PHEV to more markets, the automaker is designing an improved model that can be charged to about 80% of capacity in just 25 minutes, around 20% faster than currently. The enhanced model also will feature a mechanism in which the electric motor takes precedence over the engine in order to reduce emissions.
Mitsubishi Motors will begin Eastern European sales in Ukraine at the end of 2017, expanding later to Russia and the rest of the region. To promote the car in Ukraine, the company will install quick-charging stations at some dealerships in Kiev and elsewhere.
More muscular environmental rules are stripping the green sheen off hybrid autos. The U.S. state of California plans to make its zero-emission vehicle program -- a requirement that green autos constitute a certain share of automakers' sales within the state -- tougher in 2018, removing regular hybrids from the list of qualifying vehicles. And the upper house of Germany's parliament has voted to ban sales of cars with internal combustion engines in the European Union by 2030.
Global sales of plug-in hybrids are seen growing 31-fold to 6.65 million in the 20 years to 2035, eclipsing sales of regular hybrids and electric vehicles, Japanese research company Fuji Keizai says. That trend has all automakers working to bolster their presence in the plug-in hybrid market. Toyota Motor, the king of hybrid makers, began releasing a plug-in hybrid version of its Prius in Japan and the West at the end of 2016.
Mitsubishi Motors aims to boost global unit sales by 25% for the year ending in March 2020 to 1.25 million vehicles. The company has a weak presence in Europe and North America, which account for less than 20% of its sales, compared with Asia's 30% share. The automaker looks to expand sales in the West initially with the Outlander, currently the company's only plug-in hybrid, then add other models of that type of green vehicle.