Last in a 6-part series exploring powertrain strategies for Japanese auto makers.

TOKYO – For its near-term advanced-powertrain development focus, Mitsubishi Motors Corp. is a contrarian compared with most of its Japan-based auto maker rivals: The company is committed to developing pure electric vehicles ahead of hybrid-electric vehicles.

“We simply don’t have the resources to do both,” says Mitsubishi research executive Tetsuro Aikawa. “Thus we’ve prioritized EVs.”

If the auto maker sticks to its current schedule, it will bring a mini-EV to production by 2010.

Last fall, management announced plans to begin fleet tests with up to 40 vehicles, involving five electric utilities in Japan, including Tokyo Electric Power Co. Ltd. and Kansai Electric Power Co. Ltd., the nation’s two largest. Fleet tests are scheduled to get under way this autumn.

The vehicle, named MiEV, for Mitsubishi Innovative Electric Vehicle, is powered by a 330-volt lithium-manganese battery pack and 47-kW (63 hp) electric motor. MiEV’s battery pack, consisting of 22 modules, each yielding 15 volts, was developed by a small Mitsubishi affiliate, Litcel Co.

Mitsubishi’s battery chemistry also breaks from the current HEV standard of nickel-metal hydride and the coming advent of lithium-ion formulations.

Target range per charge for the MiEV’s lithium-manganese batteries is 100 miles (160 km) at speeds of up to 81 mph (130 km/h). The car is based on Mitsubishi’s 0.6L I minicar.

Meanwhile, Aikawa says Mitsubishi’s decision to de-emphasize direct-injection gasoline internal-combustion technology – Mitsubishi was an innovator of DIG engines for light vehicles – and prioritize EVs ahead of HEVs is due to a shortage of financial resources, as the auto maker continues to restructure its operations.

The company finished its fiscal year in March, and analysts expect it to report a small net profit, the first after three years and ¥782.4 billion ($6.8 billion) of red ink.

Despite once being the industry leader in DIG technology, Mitsubishi currently has only two DIG engines on the market: a 1.8L 4-cyl. for the Lancer wagon and 2.0L 4-cyl. for the Pajrero iO – and no new offerings in the works.

At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, Mitsubishi announced plans to introduce a clean diesel-powered car into the U.S. market in 2010. A prototype 2L turbodiesel displayed at the show is being developed jointly with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., the auto maker’s largest shareholder.

That engine, backed by a catalytic converter incorporating an oxides of nitrogen-reducing “trap” and a particulate filter, is being designed to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Tier 2 bin 5 emissions standard, which essentially allows Mitsubishi’s diesel-powered car to be sold nationwide.

In the fuel-cell vehicle field, Aikawa will not rule out the possibility of collaborating again with Mitsubishi Heavy, an original FCV partner.

“We might do so in the future, but have made no decisions,” he says.

The auto maker suspended FCV development activities with Mitsubishi Heavy when DaimlerChrysler AG acquired a controlling (though minority) equity stake in Mitsubishi in June 2000.

Over the subsequent three years, Mitsubishi joined forces with DC and Ballard Power Systems Inc. That relationship came to an abrupt end when DaimlerChrysler withdrew its equity stake in spring 2004.

In the transmission sector, Aikawa wants Mitsubishi to grow its continuously variable transmission business with Jatco Ltd., Japan’s second-largest transmission maker and subsidiary of Nissan; Mitsubishi holds an 18% equity stake in Jatco.

Like Nissan, Mitsubishi has resolutely bought into CVT technology: To date, seven Mitsubishi models are equipped with CVTs, including the Outlander, Lancer and Colt.

The auto maker also has developed an automated manual transmission, which it first displayed at the 2005 Tokyo Motor Show. It plans to introduce the clutchless manual transmission for the upcoming high-performance Evolution variant of the Lancer subcompact.

Against this backrop, Mitsubishi hopes to complete an entire overhaul of its model lineup, replacing old models with new, by the end of 2007.

When complete, Mitsubishi will have six core platforms.