PORTLAND, OR – Mitsubishi expects to sell roughly 1,500 of its new i electric vehicles in the U.S. by March 31, the end of its current fiscal year.

While the target is less than the 7,199 battery-electric Nissan Leafs and 3,895 extended-range electric Chevy Volts sold since January, officials here say it is realistic, given the nascent EV segment.

“This isn’t an overnight hit,” Bryan Arnett, product planning manager- Mitsubishi Motors North America, tells media here during an i event.

“You got infrastructure (establishment) you have to get through, and you have an education process we have to get through to consumers, so we don’t expect this car to sell as rapidly as a gasoline car.”

Arnett says the i sales goal has not been adjusted down because of the Leaf and Volt’s lower-than-targeted sales.

Nissan last year discussed fulfilling 20,000 Leaf orders by this fall, while Chevy pegged Volt deliveries in the tens of thousands of units. Both auto makers shied away from those goals this year.

Arnett says the Leaf and Volt should be given the benefit of the doubt, as they still are not available in all 50 states.

The rear-wheel-drive i EV, coming out of Mitsubishi’s Mizushima, Japan, plant, will be built to order and the auto maker could handle the demand should it rise above 1,500 units, Arnett says.

“We’ll build as many or as few as the market demands,” he says.

Mitsubishi hopes to sell 5,000 i EVs annually to U.S. buyers by 2013.

As of last week Mitsubishi had 400 pre-orders in the U.S. for the i, taken in a reservation process that began April 22.

WardsAuto reported last year Mitsubishi was to build 2,000 of the EVs for the Japanese market by the end of its fiscal year ending March 31, 2011.

In the current fiscal year, it planned to increase output to 8,500, or four per hour, with 2,000 of those rebadged as Peugeot Ions and exported to Europe.

Arnett says Mitsubishi has sold 11,000 i-MiEVs in Japan and Europe since 2009, when it went on sale to fleet customers in Japan. (Outside the U.S. the i EV retains its original name, i-MiEV.)

The U.S. i is an Americanized version of the i-MiEV, which was adapted from the Japanese-market Mitsubishi i gas-powered, mid-engine minicar.

The U.S. i EV is 4.3 ins. (11 cm) longer, due to the addition of U.S. crash-worthy front and rear bumpers, and 8 ins. (20 cm) wider than the gas-powered i. It also has a wider track and bigger tires.

The i EV gets more interior creature comforts than its Japanese and European versions, including standard heated driver’s seat and a key fob that allows for remote starting of the car’s heating and cooling systems.

The fob also reports battery range, which unlike the Leaf and Volt is mysteriously absent from the I’s cockpit readouts.The i’s range is expressed via a traditional depleting-bar gas gauge, albeit on an icon with a plug instead of a pump.

Mitsubishi chose this interface for reasons of simplicity, says Dave Patterson, chief engineer for vehicle emissions/fuel economy compliance at MMNA.

“I don’t know about all of you, but when I drive the Volt and the Leaf, and there’s all these numbers – I’m an engineer and I always wonder, ‘Is this too much information for our average customer?’ To have simple bars…works really well.”

When the i battery nears depletion, a red turtle appears as a “low gas” chime of sorts. A flashing turtle means imminent stoppage, leaving the driver “walking home,” jokes Patterson.

The i’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-approved range is 62 miles (100 km), but Arnett says that includes weighting toward city driving, and a downgrade for real-world conditions including hill climbs, wind and air-conditioner use.

Mitsubishi believes travelling 85-89 miles (137-143 km) on a fully charged battery is possible, using the EPA’s LA4 city driving cycle as a guide.

The i’s EPA mile-per-gallon equivalent fuel economy is 112 MPGe (2.1L/100 km), making it the most fuel-efficient EV in the U.S., Arnett says. The Leaf has a 99 MPGe (2.4L/100km) rating.

The i, with an approximate top speed of 80 mph (128 km/h), is powered by a 16-kW lithium-ion battery pack made up of 88 cells arranged in four, 3.7V cells per 22 modules; a 49 kW (66 hp) AC synchronous permanent-magnet motor; and a fixed-gear reduction transmission.

Sales of i launch in four U.S. states in December: California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii.

The rest of the rollout schedule is set as follows: the Northeast, plus Illinois, home to Mitsubishi's sole U.S. plant; the Southeastern U.S., then the remaining U.S. states by the end of next year.

The car begins at $29,125 for the base ES and rises to $31,125 for the SE trim level. Both prices are reduced by a $7,500 federal tax credit, plus any state-level credits.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com