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Mitsubishi recalls 14,700 electric cars globally over brakes

Mitsubishi Motors Corp's vehicles and a passer-by are reflected on an external wall at the company headquarters in Tokyo January 20, 2011. R
Mitsubishi Motors Corp's vehicles and a passer-by are reflected on an external wall at the company headquarters in Tokyo January 20, 2011. R

By Yoko Kubota

TOKYO (Reuters) - Mitsubishi Motors Corp said it would recall about 14,700 electric vehicles (EV) globally due to a brake problem unique to the electric-motor powered cars in one of the biggest callbacks involving the new generation of eco-friendly cars.

Mitsubishi Motors said that in Japan it would recall nearly 3,400 i-MiEV electric vehicles, as well as more than 2,400 MINICAB-MiEV vehicles.

Overseas, mostly in Europe, it said it was recalling about 8,900 i-MiEV vehicles. Some of those are sold as PSA Peugeot Citroen's iOn and C-Zero, though Mitsubishi declined to say how many.

The EV recall by Mitsubishi is small compared to recalls of conventional petrol-driven vehicles which have numbered in the millions, though it accounts for nearly half of their overall i-MiEV and MINICAB-MiEV production.

Electric vehicles are struggling to make inroads into the autos sector despite a big push by the Obama administration to boost sales, as the green cars often fall short of consumer expectations especially in running distance.

"This is a matter of one part, and it's too much to apply the issue to say there is something wrong with electric vehicles," said Tatsuo Yoshida, a senior analyst at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities in Tokyo.

"The cause of the problem is identified and there were no accidents. But the problematic part is the brake, an important part for safety, and that means Mitsubishi Motors' quality check procedure is too weak."

The recalled vehicles may carry an improperly shaped or damaged electric pump, which sends air to the brake booster, the Japanese automaker said. The brake booster multiplies the forces applied from the foot and makes braking easier.

A problematic pump may cause the vehicle to run a longer distance when braking before it comes to a complete halt, a spokesman said. No injuries or deaths have been reported and there is no risk of fire, he added.

He declined to comment on the cost of the recall. The problematic part will be exchanged and the process will take about half an hour, the spokesman, who declined to be named, said.

The pump is not used in conventional cars, as the engine sends air to the brake booster.

The recall is one of the biggest involving electric vehicles. In August 2012, Fisker Automotive recalled 2,400 Karma plug-in hybrids to repair a faulty cooling fan unit that was the cause of a vehicle fire.

In Jan 2012, General Motors offered to fix the battery pack for the 8,000 Volt plug-in hybrids to eliminate the risk of a fire being triggered days after a crash.

Sales of electric cars make up only a small percentage of the overall autos market. In 2012, Nissan sold 9,819 of its world's best-selling EV, the Leaf, in the United States, where 14.5 million vehicles were sold in total.

Mitsubishi Motors has sold or exported a total of around 27,200 i-MiEVs since it first went on sale in July 2009.

The recall comes a month after Mitsubishi Motor was inspected by Japan's Transport Ministry, which said the automaker inappropriately reported about recalls involving minicars.

Mitsubishi Motors has been mired in a string of recall scandals including in 2000, when an insider's tip revealed the automaker had been hiding customer complaints illegally for over two decades.

(Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Richard Pullin and Jeremy Laurence)

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