TOKYO -- Mitsubishi Motors Corp. has formally recalled its i-MiEV electric vehicle in Japan. Sales and production of the EV minicar, which is also sold as the Peugeot iOn and Citroen C-Zero in Europe, along with the Outlander plug-in hybrid crossover sold only in Japan, have been halted since a manufacturing glitch caused one of their lithium ion battery packs to melt and another to catch fire in March.
Mitsubishi will recall more than 4,000 vehicles with the potentially faulty batteries in Japan starting mid-month, the company said Tuesday. A small number of affected i-MiEVs were sold in Europe and the United States.
"We are preparing appropriate measures for markets outside Japan, but this is not the appropriate time to give details," spokeswoman Namie Koketsu said.
A company spokesman in Europe said in an e-mail reply to questions that for the i-MiEV the automaker is "preparing proper countermeasures considering local regulations as well as actual vehicle conditions in the field." He added that more details would come later.
PSA models fixed
A spokeswoman for Peugeot and Citron parent PSA said that none of the C-Zero and iOn units on the road has the problem.
"When Mitsubishi notified us about its recall campaign, all new vehicles equipped with potentially defective batteries were being transported to Europe, but hadn't been delivered to their final clients," the spokeswoman said in an e-mailed reply to questions. She said those vehicles have had their batteries replaced.
She added that just six of the French automaker's electric minicars were in customers' hands at the time Mitsubishi discovered the problem. All of the owners were contacted in April and the problem has been taken care of, she said.
Mitsubishi said earlier that about 50 i-MiEVs were affected overseas, including in the Europe and the United States. Mitsubishi did not break down overseas numbers.
Mitsubishi ironed out a manufacturing fix last month that will prevent the defects. The new process will churn out replacement batteries for the cars being recalled, Koketsu said.
The Japanese carmaker aims to resume production of new i-MiEVs and Outlander plug-in hybrids by the end of August, after the recalled vehicles are fixed.
That should return the Outlander to production before its planned U.S. launch next year. The plug-in version of the SUV was scheduled to debut in Europe this year.
The Mitsubishi Europe spokesman said the recall of the plug-in Outlander should have no effect on plans for the car for Europe because production of the EU version of the SUV has not started yet. He said it is too early to give a more precise timing of the SUV's European launch.
The batteries were prone to short-circuiting for two reasons. In some instances, workers dropped the batteries, causing parts of the battery cells to break off and contaminate the cells. In other cases, a screening process applied excessive force to the batteries, which also caused internal damage to the cells.
The battery supplier, Lithium Energy Japan, verified fixes for both problems last month.
The company reduced steps in which the batteries were carried by hand and switched its screening process to avoid wear and tear on the cells. It also introduced additional video surveillance of the assembly line to double check for quality gaps.
In Japan, Mitsubishi recalled 4,313 Outlander plug-in hybrids that potentially have the defective batteries, as well as 17 i-MiEVs and 98 Minicab i-MiEVs, a electric commercial minivan.
Mitsubishi said earlier that about 50 i-MiEVs were affected overseas, including in the United States and Europe.
Mitsubishi's announcement that it had found the problem came just a day after it recalled the Outlander plug-in hybrid in Japan for separate problems with its driver motors.
That callback affected 3,839 units. The problem was traced to software that controls the drive motors and possible glitches in the gasoline-electric vehicle's generator.
Setback to plans
The snags are a blow to Mitsubishi, which is positioning electrified vehicles at the center of a push to rebrand itself as an eco-car leader. They also are a setback for the Outlander plug-in hybrid, which had enjoyed brisk sales in Japan and is the first vehicle showcasing Mitsubishi's new hybrid technology.
The battery problems evoke those of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which had its global fleet grounded because of overheating lithium ion batteries. The Boeing and the Mitsubishi battery packs trace their origins to the same supplier.
Mitsubishi's were made by Lithium Energy Japan, a joint venture with Japanese battery maker GS Yuasa Corp. Boeing's batteries were made directly by GS Yuasa. The batteries were made at different plants and have different materials and designs.
Douglas A. Bolduc contributed to this report