By on March 19, 2013

Mitsubishi USA is looking to stave off their American extinction, with new ad spending and even – get this – new product. The only question is, what exactly can they bring?

Along with a significant TV and digital ad campaign, Mitsubishi is looking to help rejuvenate their aging lineup. First up will be the all-new Outlander which, according to TTAC sources, is a good first step, but not exactly class leading. Next up will be their new Thai-built global subcompact, which has been the subject of plenty of discussion at TTAC. And then what?

Automotive News spoke to Masatoshi Hasegawa, Mitsubishi’s US car chief, who recognized the predicament being faced by the ailing auto maker. Hasegawa dropped a couple of hints as to their future product direction, stating

“We are looking into a possibility for the [mid-sized sedan] segment, and we may look into maybe a bigger brother to the Outlander”

Next up for Mitsubishi is a replacement for the aging Lancer, being previewed at the Bangkok Motor Show with the Concept G4 (shown above). As for the mid-size sedan and bigger SUV, Mitsubishi has precisely zero of these products even in the pipeline, and it’s hard to imagine that they have the development dollars lying around. A look at Mitsubishi Japan’s website is particularly telling – aside from the Lancer and Lancer Evo, the only other sedans in its lineup are the Proudia and Dignity, rebadged Infiniti M sedans. And the only larger SUV is the rugged but dated Pajero.

 

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67 Comments on “What’s Next For Mitsubishi USA?...”


  • avatar
    Easton

    Americans don’t want small cars. And my understanding is that the ones that do sell have razor thin profit margins. I don’t see how this is any kind of strategy for success.

    • 0 avatar
      ranwhenparked

      That’s kind of changing though, 4 out of the 10 best selling cars in 2012 were compacts, and average transaction prices for some of them (Focus) have been trending upward.

    • 0 avatar
      mjz

      They should borrow a page from the Subaru playbook and make all of their vehicles all wheel drive. It sure works well for Subie.

    • 0 avatar
      Brunsworks

      I think Americans don’t want small cars because people keep saying Americans don’t want small cars.

      I think sales of cars like the Honda Fit suggest otherwise. An auto company that understands and targets its market can sell any size vehicle as long as it’s good.

      • 0 avatar
        George B

        Some Americans want inexpensive cars that happen to be small. The problem is Americans resist paying the same for a small car as a larger car.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I would agree with this, trouble is now they want you to spend large/midsize car money (of ten or so years ago) on small cars and luxury car money (of ten to twelve years ago) for a large car. Americans still want a good bit of car for their money and will resist paying too much for something only a bit bigger than a golf cart.

        • 0 avatar
          Hummer

          Exactly, manufacturers treat their small cars in a way where they expect people to pay midsize sometimes fullsize prices, it’s jsut not sensible for the average buyer.
          Unless something happens with regulations (safety bringing up the costs I assume here) small cars will eventually lose even more ground to midsize that can get the same mpg for the same price but with more space.

  • avatar

    They should bring back the small pickup ala Mighty Max.

    We could also use another hot sports coupe like the Eclipse or a halo vehicle like the 3000GT. Then they would need to have a soild, mid price sedan they could put people in when reality gets in the way of buying the sports coupe they came in to look at.

    • 0 avatar

      Truck is not going to save them. There is NO MARKET for a small pickup in the U.S.. Heck even medium sized one won’t sell (although granted both Mitsu and Suzuki rebadged their offerings – Raider and Equator respectively).

      As for their sports car, Evo is that, even with 4 doors.

      • 0 avatar
        FuzzyPlushroom

        The only way a small pickup will sell is if it’s sturdy, basic (aside from power windows/locks/steering/brakes and a radio), and sold at a comparable price to a Fiesta or Sonic… sort of a more modern Ranger replacement. If its price, as popularly equipped, isn’t at least a few grand cheaper than an entry-level F-150, it’ll go nowhere.

        It’s an interesting idea, but I think subcompact and compact cars, small crossovers, and efficient alternative powertrains would be a more certain future for the three diamonds.

        • 0 avatar
          Xeranar

          You can get a F-150 today for less than 20K. A year Or so old ones go for the starting price of a small compact truck. CombIned with limited load the compact truck is just a bad mix.

  • avatar
    corntrollio

    Saw a Mitsu Delica van on the freeway today and was shocked to see it still running.

  • avatar
    cargogh

    I don’t think the pictured Mitsubishi USA CLA will cut it.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    How about a gasoline engine that doesn’t use a timing belt? In this day and age that’s no longer excusable.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      What? Most gasoline engines have timing belts.

      • 0 avatar
        ect

        There may be a move back. When we were car-shopping this past fall, at least some of the models we looked at (Mercedes B-class, Kia Sportage, VW Tiguan come to mind) had timing chains, not belts.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I think he’s right, in the past everything had a timing chain, then later came the belts. Belts are inexcusably cheap, especially on high end cars, and more prone to failure.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I just didn’t understand what he meant. I’m 100% in favor of the chains. Isn’t the OEM excuse that the chains are too rough/loud?

        • 0 avatar
          jpolicke

          That was one excuse. Also heard that the lighter belt helped the small motors rev. But everyone except Mitsu apparently overcame these problems, probably faced with pushback from people like me, who objected to the choice of either an all day job or an expensive labor charge. I held my nose and accepted it when I bought my TDI Jetta as the price of getting the diesel. Having dumped that car for other reasons I’m thrilled to have dodged that bullet. When I’m shopping for a gas powered vehicle I wouldn’t consider getting a belt motor.

          • 0 avatar
            FuzzyPlushroom

            The only way I’ll accept a timing belt is on a non-interference engine. I don’t mind having to change the timing belt every several years so long as I know that if it does fail earlier than expected, it’ll be a tow truck ride and a few hours’ labour rather than a rebuilt engine.

            I’ve broken my rule once, with a Volvo 850, but didn’t own it for long, and traded it for a 244… which has a timing belt in good shape, and should the belt fail, will suffer no additional damage. I’ll probably replace it soon, just to be sure.

        • 0 avatar

          No, all good engines completely switched back to chains. Toyota had a lifetime chain back in 2004, 9 years ago (in RAV4.2 for example, carried over into 4.3 until 2.5L took over). There’s a trick to that, making chain-drivern engines as quiet as belt-driven ones. Apparently Mitsubishi lag so far behind that they cannot figure it out.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Wait wait, you’re saying now that good engines have chains? Do any current Toyo/Honda products have chains?

          • 0 avatar
            tankton

            @CoreyDL Yes, nearly all Toyota engines are moving in that direction, and Honda is now going chain, as well (their new DI 2.4L).

      • 0 avatar
        SoCalMikester

        One reason I got my Scion xA was the chain. And 5spd manual. And VVT-i. Because racecar.

  • avatar
    L'avventura

    Mitsubishi Motors is a hard one to call, their parent company is doing very well, so they have the cash, but at ~1.5 mil global yearly sales volume, they really don’t have the volume to compete competitively.

    I think the obvious trend is that they’ll expand their exports out of South East Asia; which has become their core market. Japanese exports will only be for low-volume cars. Likely, beyond the Mirage, we’ll see next-gen Lancers coming form Thailand as well.

    One thing they seem to be heavily invested in is diesel-hybrids, there has been a long rumor that the EVO XI would be a diesel-hybrid, and to give credence to those rumors Mitsubishi just showed a 2.5L diesel-hybrid in the GR-HEV pickup at Geneva. So the diesel-hybrid may be the center piece of their future lineup.

    Its safe too assume that Mitsubishi’s Normal Ill. plant will play a larger role, perhaps building that pickup truck. The GR-HEV, for all its high-tech hybrid gadgetry, sits on leaf-springs suspensions and has solid rear axle, and could be a good match for the US market which lacks a fuel-efficient pickup truck (they claim 41 mpg on the Euro-cycle).

    Mitsubishi, as a small player, won’t win by matching the larger competition which has better brand and quality perception, finding its niche may be the only way for Mitsubishi to survive in the US.

  • avatar
    stryker1

    “What’s Next For Mitsubishi USA?”
    Hey Derek, I think there’s a typo in your headline.

    “What’s Last For Mitsubishi USA?”
    There, fixed it!

  • avatar
    Easton

    Mitsubishi cannot succeed by selling cars nobody wants (i.e. iMiEV) or just another me-too product (i.e. midsize sedan). It needs a great mind to come up with something truly new and innovative to redefine a segment or create a new one, like Chrysler did with the minivan in 1984. A tremendous task, yes, but anything short of tremendous will spell certain death.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      That’s the truth of it – they need something distinctive.

      But in the US market of excellent cars, I don’t think they have the innovation, resources, and most importantly – time – to pull it off.

      The US market doesn’t need another SUV, uncompetitive pickup, small, or midsized car. MAYBE a light-duty pickup (D50-style), or a bottom-feeding tin can for college students (Yugo-style). Even still, this takes time and resources, and Mitsubishi hasn’t even hinted at such products.

      • 0 avatar
        SoCalMikester

        With Jeeps starting at $22k, I’d love to see them make a Samurai clone, priced at about $14k. They would be #1 in the ‘hood, G!

        • 0 avatar
          Brunsworks

          ˙ooʇ ‘ǝuo ɹǝʇʇǝq ɐ ˙ıɐɹnɯɐs ǝɥʇ uɐɥʇ ubısǝp ɹǝʍǝu ɥɔnɯ ɐ ǝq oʇ ǝʌɐɥ p,ʇı ʞuıɥʇ ı

        • 0 avatar
          Easton

          Not a bad idea. SUV’s: popular. Fuel efficiency: popular. find a way to combine the 2 and you may be onto something.

          I think GM really missed a tremendous opportunity with Hummer to become a true Jeep competitor. With its tremendous brand cache and the high prices it captured, its only downfall was its notoriously bad fuel economy. Convert the entire line-up to standard diesel engines and feature cutting edge hybrid technology, design some smaller models with the same off-road capability that put the brand on the map, and put high-end luxury interiors into each of them and they really would have been on to something. Probably would have been a real money-maker for the General. Too late now.

        • 0 avatar

          The price of $14k is impossible to meet for a small SUV, especially in small volume. Sure, they have a plant in Normal to build it domestically, but it still needs to be developed. They don’t have Daihatsu from where to scoop a ready to roll product.

        • 0 avatar
          azmtbkr81

          +1. With an efficient 4 cylinder engine, rugged styling and actual off-road capability they’d have a hit, even at closer to $20k.

          The CUV market is saturated but Jeep can’t build Wranglers fast enough so why not tap in to that demand?

          • 0 avatar

            Actually if you read off-roading magazines, the idea of a mini-jeep is often floated. The problem is, 90% of Wrangler sales goes to mall-crawler market which subsidizes the off-roaders. The smaller format is not going to be successful in the mainstream and not going to be viable when only based on off-roaders.

            In Japan they have a bunch of vehicles like Daihatsu/Toyota Rush, but even those are bigger than Samurai used to be.

            Current Wrangler (JK) is about 15% wider than GMC small trucks, of which most goes to the wheel flares. So in some sense it’s not very wide. If you can squeeze it into the parking spot, you can slither out of it. Or just jump out if it’s summer.

          • 0 avatar
            niky

            If it even had the remotest possibility of working, Suzuki would be on it (plug, Jimny Article, plug).

            Mitsubishi has had small off-roaders, notably miniature Pajeros, in the past, but they don’t have the same unkillable reputation the Jimny/Samurai line has.

  • avatar
    Compaq Deskpro

    That Mercedes looking thing in the picture sucks. They need to update the Lancer, it’s already cool so make it crazy cool, put bodykits and wings on it, overdo it. Make it a dealer thing, like how you can choose at the dealer which silly chrome dubs you want to put on your Escalade. Don’t matter what the Outlander looks like people will buy them if you pitch them, look at the ugly crossovers Nissan is selling. Bring the Galant back, but do a Chrysler 200 to it. Make it look more expensive, sugar coat the interior, button down the handling, and people will buy. So will rental fleets. Dump the iMeiv that thing is a joke. What about the Colt?

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    I think the problem with Mitsubishi currently is that they have starved themselves of new (or current) products. Literally. Not in the USA, not in Japan, not anywhere. . So they now have to make the hard decision: Bigger cars for the USA, or smaller car for the rest of the world. I doubt they have the money for both. And even if they do, they probably don’t have the engineering capacity to do both simultaneously. Mitsubishi chief’s words is encouraging, but I would bet that when the push comes to shove, the guys back home will choose the smaller car for the rest of the world, which include the sacred home country of Japan.

    • 0 avatar
      Brunsworks

      There’s another option: Overlap. For the residential/non-industrial market, ttart with a kei car for cars outside the North American market, and maybe one or two others. Then build global car and unibody MPV/small truck/minivan platforms for the next three sizes up. Then build one or two larger platforms exclusively for the U.S.

      Then for the cargo/industrial market, build one or two more truck platforms exclusively for the U.S. market, and the rest globally.

      Some variations of this may also work. Tweaks to body panels for various markets might sell better, and obviously, safety standards from region to region may vary.

  • avatar
    onyxtape

    Anybody remember the Expo? I think that’s sort of a spiritual ancestor to the Mazda 5. But at that time, it was the minivan that nobody wanted.

    Also, hehe “Pajero”…

  • avatar
    Waterview

    I think Hyundai has authored a fairly successful playbook which could be copied by Mitsu. In ten years, they’ve gone from a laughingstock junk purveyor to the talk of the town (at least in terms of styling and value). Mazda did a similar thing with the 323/626 in the 80′s (probably less successfully than Hyundai) but the same concept. Give ‘em a great value and quality and the buyers will find you. A little bit of work helping folks understand what the brand stands for would be a plus also.

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      Interesting. And fitting considering that it was Mitsubishi who supplied the engine technology for the Excel (and that Mitsu sold a rebadged Excel).

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      Some key differences between Mitsubishi and Hyundai:

      1. Hyundai was in the US market for 15 years before they offered the (still-ongoing) 10/100 warranty, with a measure of quality to back it up.
      2. Hyundai’s styling has obviously improved.
      3. You need the right staff in place to make the engineering improvements, novel product concepts, manufacturing capability, and risk-taking approach happen.
      4. Hyundai wasn’t really in decline when they made these improvements. Mitsubishi has had many years to contemplate its US demise, and has done nothing about it. Now, I think they’ve gone below critical mass to survive here.
      5. GM and Ford have substantially improved their game, as has everyone else. Mitsubishi has a tough market to compete in, which also includes… Hyundai.

  • avatar
    darex

    They were very competitive in the late 80s. Why can’t they do that now? They had great designs and great quality. Mirror, anyone?

    • 0 avatar

      Remember “Zero Zero Zero for a Year-O Year-O Year-O?” ’bout a dozen years ago?

      Zero percent APR, with no down payment and no payment of any kind for an entire year.

      Lotta people with urinary-poor credit took advantage, either unable or unwilling to pay…then defaulted after a year, or just plain turned in their now-year-old car days before their first payment.

      Epic Fail. Mitsubishi hasn’t been the same since.

  • avatar

    I may be strange but I would like to consider Minicab. Unlike MiEV it has the engine in the right place. And, turbo. And, 4WD. The example of MiEV proves beyond any doubt that the car of such class may be adopted to American safety regulations. But of course it’s a bridge too far.

  • avatar
    vent-L-8

    look to Suzuki for a clue

  • avatar
    AlphaWolf

    Too little too late it would seem without something fantastic in the pipeline.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    How did a company that is so innovative with HVAC products becomes such an also-ran in the automotive field? You would think quality engineers would be a corporate hallmark, much like Honda who is very diversified and pretty much all the products, whatever they may be, are at least good, and usually excellent….

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      Mitsubishi’s technical quality may be OK, but people also buy on style, value, performance, and product distinction – all magical qualities.

      Mitsubishi has been asleep. The few products they have are outclassed by somebody else. And now, a buyer has to wonder if they’ll even have ongoing support… if they can find a dealer.

    • 0 avatar
      jpolicke

      Different set of engineers, product planners, stylists, marketers. Surely you know somebody who’s brilliant at their vocation but completely inept at something else. Apparently the automotive operation failed to attract or keep talent.

    • 0 avatar
      fvfvsix

      Mitsubishi Electric and Mitsubishi Motors haven’t been part of the same company since the Japanese surrender in the 40′s (oddly enough, Asahi glass and Asahi beer were also former pieces of “Mitsubishi”). That would explain why one company makes innovative products, and the other seems like it’s being run by blue-helmeted henchmen from Osato corporation.

  • avatar
    xaocoh

    We should recognize this for what it is: a chance- however slim- that Mitsubishi may bring the Delica D5 to the US:

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Check out the Mitsubishi U.S. web site. They still feature the 2012 Gallant and their show cars and prototypes go back as far as 2001. It’s either dead brand walking or they are just barely care about the U.S. market.

  • avatar
    TW4

    Mitsubishi should fade the industry. The major manufacturers are burning through mountains of cash to make new equipment. New platforms. New engines. New hybrid systems. New gadgets and features. New ways to entice new buyers to spend money they don’t have. The price of new cars is rising far faster than median household income, and the cost of these innovations are going to be passed on to the average customer.

    I think Mitsubishi will turn a corner if they ignore the industry and they focus on refining their existing designs and suppressing unnecessary development costs. Make the engines bulletproof. Make the electronics faultless. Raise fuel efficiency for conventional ICE vehicles. The current Prius Liftback and Prius C are already CAFE 2025 compliant so spend a few bucks developing something similar to what Toyota have now, and let the battery manufacturers pull the development plow. The torrent of innovation rhetoric is almost certain to fizzle b/c most Americans lack the purchasing power to continue financing fuel-efficiency improvements, which are subject to diminishing marginal returns. Major manufacturers who stay within themselves will benefit as the Volt and Leaf have proven. Anything goes for boutique companies like Tesla.

    Mitsubishi really only need to invent a new identity and maybe one signature product, like a successor to the 3000GT or a new funky small car (Beetle, Mini, 500). Personally, I’d follow Subaru into the new utilitarian hipster segment, or whatever Subaru have created. Without some kind of force majeure, young Americans will not be as well off as their parents so utilitarian makes sense. Also, rumors are circulating that Subaru may be forced to reduce the role of the boxer engine for fuel economy concerns. This could dilute Subaru’s identity and put Mitsubishi on relatively equal footing.

    Under normal circumstances, I’d prescribe revolution, but I think the market is under-going a counterproductive revolution; therefore, hedge.

  • avatar
    dcttrs

    Mitsubishi missed many chances to recover. Kia is a great example – their cars were more dull and boring than even Mitsubishi and their reliability was also sub-par. But after hiring the former Audi design chief it was clear that Good design can save a sub-par automaker. Kia’s sales are setting records in a down market. And their cars look outstanding. Friends of mine w

  • avatar
    dcttrs

    Mitsubishi missed many chances to recover. Kia is a great example – their cars were more dull and boring than even Mitsubishi and their reliability was also sub-par. But after hiring the former Audi design chief it was clear that Good design can save a sub-par automaker. Kia’s sales are setting records in a down market. And their cars look outstanding. Friends of mine who would never consider a Kia just 3 years ago are putting them at the top of the list.

    But Mitsubishi’s biggest problem is lack of dealerships. I just sold my 2008 Evolution X GSR. A fantastic car which was trouble-free for 55k miles. The handling was better than prior cars I’ve owned (wrx, 3-series, g35 coupe, …). One by one though, my closest dealerships were taking dropping the Mitsubishi brand. 3 this past year. I didn’t want to be left with an unserviceable car – so I reluctantly sold it.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Mitsu’s current lineup is like the menu at a Scottish restaurant. Not much in it, and nothing you’d want.

  • avatar
    thelaine

    If Mitsubishi would just establish a brand ident…oh who am I kidding. They are so doomed it’s ridiculous. Mitsubishi death watch. They should merge with Tesla to save money on bankruptcy lawyers.

  • avatar
    Spyder999

    Personally I think over the years they’ve had some great designs, but there stagnate now. There little electric is well thought out but prohibitively expensive.
    I think they need to find a partner. Sergio is right any auto maker that doesn’t get up to selling 5 million units a year is going to be left out in the cold.

  • avatar
    righteousball

    Mitsubishi’s already done the come back thing before. Not once but twice.

    First time was a product renaissance led by the first-gen Diamante/Sigma/Magna, with the 3000GT as a halo car. Second time was the “Project America” platform (the 2000s Galant/Endeavor/Eclipse) and that was largely based on marketing and financial incentives.

    The “possibility” they mentioned is really just another Project America. Build 2-3 models off a larger platform, use the IL factory. These will be standard everyman cars in the US,upscale luxury in China, and other regions can get them on a case-by-case basis.

    The alternative is to reskin other people’s cars in fine Austin-Rover style, just to have stuff out in the market. I think Mitsubishi must’ve hoped to do this with Peugeot platforms, but Peugeot just didn’t have the $ for a relationship.

    Each time Mitsubishi’s staged a comeback or product offensive, they’ve always been less than effective. Everyone else got either more sales or more street cred.

    In the past they’ve coasted on the Chrysler connection and never figured out their wishy-washy management, Jackie Chan endorsement deal, or their proper place in the market. The past decade these ghosts have caught up with them…is all I can say.


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