By on July 24, 2015

Mitsubishi USA sales chart

With news that Mitsubishi is ending U.S. new vehicle production front and centre in the minds of not a single auto industry observer, one wonders how the situation devolved so quickly.

That’s not to say there are any surprises when it comes to Mitsubishi’s U.S. decline. (And remember, they’re not dead… yet.) A recall scandal tarnished the brand’s global image. Mitsubishi moved away from SUVs like the Montero, Montero Sport, and Endeavor ahead of the market’s turn toward SUVs and crossovers. Mitsubishi is reluctant to do anything more than facelift unpopular models like the Outlander. They’re unwilling to import the popular Outlander PHEV to hybrid-friendly America. They’ve utterly forsaken the midsize car market. They’ve crafted a muddled image which suggests Mitsubishi is both a performance brand (Lancer Evo) and a green brand (i-MiEV). Good news stories? Few and far between.

The results have been catastrophic.

After climbing to 345,111 U.S. sales in 2002, Mitsubishi volume fell 26 percent in 2003, the first of four consecutive years of decline for the brand. Overall U.S. auto sales fell just 1% in 2003.

Mitsubishi’s 2004 volume slipped 37 percent even as the market strengthened. In 2005, Mitsubishi sales fell another 23 percent. 2006 volume was down 4 percent before a 9 percent uptick in 2007.

2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport now Made in America

As a recession hit in 2008, Mitsubishi sales slid 25 percent, although the overall industry was down just 18 percent that year. Mitsubishi sales then plunged to a low of 53,986 units in 2009, a 44-percent decline that was far worse than the industry’s 21-percent slide into the abyss.

2010 revealed a measure of recovery for the auto industry in America as total volume rose 11 percent. But Mitsubishi sales were up just 3 percent. A significant 42-percent surge for Mitsubishi in 2011 propelled the brand to 79,020 sales, but the brand hasn’t yet returned to that level. Only 77,643 Mitsubishis were sold in America in 2014, a 25-percent year-over-year increase and a 34-percent improvement compared with 2012.

2006 Mitsubishi Montero

The frightening figure? Mitsubishi sales in 2014, though representative of a three-year high, amounted to less than one-quarter of Mitsubishi’s sales from 2002.

Mitsubishi sold 20,000 more Galants in 2002 than they sold total vehicles in 2014. In 2003, their Outlander sales total was 2.6 times stronger than it was last year (when Outlander volume rose to a six-year high), even as the brand sold more than 61,000 copies of other SUVs.

2009 Mitsubishi Endeavor SE

Mitsubishi averaged 53,000 annual Lancer sales between 2002 and 2004 but hasn’t topped the 20K mark in any of the last four years, the 30K mark since 2007, or the 40K mark since 2004.

Mitsubishi wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire in 2002, with U.S. market share of just 2 percent, but the brand appeared to be capable of weathering storms. A dearth of new product has been a killer problem for the brand. Through the first-half of 2015, only 0.6 percent of the new vehicles sold in the United States were Mitsubishis.

2004 Mitsubishi Montero Sport

In the near future, with plans in place to stop building vehicles in North America for North America, Mitsubishi loses another key component in its quest to be competitive. Just consider the “import” automakers which believe that it’s important to not have to always import: all of them.

The Normal, Illionois-assembled Outlander Sport is Mitsubishi’s best seller this year. Overall Mitsubishi volume is up 25 percent with Outlander Sport sales rising 17 percent to 17,893 units, 36 percent of the brand’s first-half sales.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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56 Comments on “After Collapse, Mitsubishi Gradually Recovers, Then Shuts Down U.S. Production?...”


  • avatar
    Russycle

    I don’t see anything saving Mitsubishi. “Japanese quality” meant something in the 90s, but the Koreans and Americans have pretty much caught up, and that doesn’t leave much reason to choose their product.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Typically, and other than really the Montero variants, Mitsubishis have not -had- “Japanese quality” anywhere near the extent of the other three.

    • 0 avatar
      cwerdna

      No they haven’t. Go look at Consumer Reports reliability ratings over all models, years and makes. The American car companies still aren’t doing well in this department. The Korea cars are a mixed bag.

      Toyota and Honda (and their luxury brands) are still out in front.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Do we now begin Mitsubishi’s death watch in the US? Mitsubishi has been a dying brand for a number of years.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Look up “Japanese zombie brands”.

    Also keep in mind Mitsubishi Motors is just a drop in the bucket for the Mitsubishi Group.

    • 0 avatar

      This. They own the largest bank in Japan. The way it’s been described to me is that Mitsubishi Motors is almost a vanity project.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Mitsubishi Motors was spun out decades ago. The Mitsubishi parent entities own 34% of it, and they had owned less than that until they stepped in to bail it out about a decade ago.

        I doubt that that they are happy with the US results. But Japanese companies tend to be sluggish when dealing with their problems. (Too much face saving, not enough action.)

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          “Too much face saving, not enough action.”

          That’s the way the Japanese operate. They don’t fire their top people unless they REALLY screw up, so you need to wait for a changing of the guard to see problems addressed with fundamental solutions.

  • avatar
    Clueless Economist

    My first car was a Mitsubishi. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the brand. Every time I was in the market for a new car I would go to a dealership to check the latest Mitsubishis out. About four years ago I test drove the Outlander Sport. I actually like the looks and it has aged reasonably well. However, it felt like a ten year old design. My wife, who generally likes most cars she test drives, said, “no way.”

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Well, you know, the brand hasn’t had a competitive midsize or compact car since 2003 (and hasn’t had a midsize at all since 2012). The last Galant came out in 2003…right at the same time that sales began to really collapse. I don’t think there’s any mystery here.

    What would happen to Toyota if Camrys and Corollas stopped selling? Game over. You can’t survive without competitive product – or any product at all – in the meat of the market.

    This brand’s been dead for some time, and the increased sales for the “refreshed” Outlander is just a dead cat bounce.

    My guess is that a Korean maker takes over the factory, BTW. Wasn’t Kia talking about expanding to Mexico?

    • 0 avatar

      Mitsubishi Motors finally got its competitive mojo going 15-20 years ago for this market. They had a chance. We helped them beat their chests about market share gains, conquest sales, great ad campaigns and product awards. Good times.

      Then they quickly squandered it on bad credit risks, boring product and screwing over its dealers. I was there and saw what their then-COO Gagnon and head of sales “Mini Me” O’Neill did to a great operation.

      Since then, it’s been a revolving door of 3rd-tier U.S., Canadian, British and now Japanese execs shouting about leadership and bouncing back, but no one is in California for anything but a paycheck.

      The folks in Tokyo may have deep pockets and lots of pride, but they won’t keep this going forever. The smart move would be to put them out of their misery and make a deal with FCA or Hyundai/Kia.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Mitsubishi just made record worldwide profits. Here is their rationale for selling the plant at Normal:

    http://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Companies/Mitsubishi-Motors-finally-strong-enough-to-shift-gears

  • avatar

    Mitsubishi has zero image in the US. The only remaining goodwill is on the back of the long-defunct Eclipse.

    Mitsubishi is the car that makes you say, “Oh yeah…Mitsubishi”

    Mitsubishi is the car you buy when you get your tax refund that the extra $500 gets you out of looking at late-model used cars.

    Mitsubishi as a company is doing the smart thing. Mitsubishi USA is dead man walking. Junk cars that command zero resale aside from the rare EVO and a decent-condition Outlander.

    • 0 avatar

      I think Mitsubishi’s best car is the Mirage. It’s an honest-to-goodness barebones runabout, but it’s styled handsomely, can get out of its own way (if you equip it with the manual transmission) and will probably last forever. It also serves a real purpose, for the person who either wants a very low cost of ownership (depreciation notwithstanding) or who just absolutely *needs* a new car. And I guess the Outlander Sport is decent for what it is. It was sort of the first modern subcompact crossover to offer AWD and such, although it has been surpassed by better products from more-desirable brands.

      But the Lancer and Outlander (and whatever else they make) just fail spectacularly. I’m particularly perplexed by the Outlander GT and its 3.0-liter V6, which—with the recent demise of Lexus’ 2.5-liter V6—is now the least powerful V6 on the market, yet has the nerve to ask for premium fuel.

      • 0 avatar

        ‘Best’ in term of ‘so cheap it literally cannot depreciate much further’ and ‘won’t burn as much oil since its down one cylinder from the rest of the lineup,’ then sure.

        These things are just so poverty-spec cars with homely, dopey styling. Some find it endearing I suppose in the same way hipsters find intolerable clothing, beverages, and food to be intrinsically superior, but to the general public and on the road, it really just looks like something you’re federally-assigned once your income falls below a certain threshold.

      • 0 avatar
        DweezilSFV

        I’m with you Kyree: a functional inexpensive uncomplicated tool. Something manufacturers have forgotten how to build.Not everything has to be “premium”,”bespoke”, a rolling condo or a four wheeled vibrator.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Unfortunately, you can’t build your brand off selling dirt-cheap subcompacts.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I thought the Outlander Sport was alright until I checked the pricing. If you want one with leather, it’s way too expensive for what it is.

  • avatar
    Fred

    My first truck was a 2nd gen Mighty Max truck. It was a nice little truck that never failed me. Loved that silent shaft motor. Sorry to see them lose their way.

  • avatar
    Truckducken

    I think it was concluded on this august website some years ago that the target market for Mitsu in the US was strippers, er, adult entertainers. So the real question becomes, what in blazes has become of the US stripper population? I’m sure some of our ex-EICs are doing their part to keep the industry strong, but also fear that the internet may be the real culprit behind the demise of the Three Diamonds. Our burgeoning beta male population can now take a walk on the wild side without leaving the security of mother’s basement, and – poof – an historic marque is no more.

    So, forget about SUVs and reliability and such trifles. If you want to see Mitsubishi mount a comeback, get thee to the nearest strip club posthaste!

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    The 2nd tier Japanese brands like Subaru and Mazda can succeed by exploiting segments underserved by the 1st tier big three – AWD in everything and safety, or style and driving enjoyment.

    For the 3rd tiers though, there’s just no room left. The last time Mitsubishi was a relevant car company in the US, Hyundais were basically crap, and Kias seemed like something made in East Germany.

    Now look at where they are, and where Mitsubishi is. There’s no coming back from that.

    • 0 avatar

      Mazda and Subaru, especially the latter, aren’t really second-tier. They were, especially because they didn’t enjoy the same reliability records as the mainstream automakers, but they’re not anymore. They’re just much smaller companies. If anything, they seem to put a little more care and effort into how their products are engineered than do Honda, Toyota and Nissan. Subaru can’t even meet demand right now, and is having to decide whether to scale things up and make more sales (but potentially lose what has made the brand so special and desirable up to now), or stay where it is. And Mazda is practically the new Volkswagen, as far as having premium products that may cost more, but are a clear cut or two above competitors.

      But the second thing you mentioned was interesting. Mitsubishi and the Hyundai/Kia conglomerate have essentially switched places on the market.

  • avatar

    Oh, wow. That Endeavor brings back memories.

    [shudder].

  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    What is their recent profitability? i assume with 95K cars there is not much profit for volume cars (volume may not be the right word as it implies some… well, volume).

    Add the fact they do credit-challenged sales, probably large discounts etc. So they may prepare to leave.

    OR:
    they figured for the few cars they sell, importing is cheaper and maybe they have a plan to produce (or co-produce with someone else?) in Mexico or China to bring cars here. Having a plant near idle is more expensive than just importing some cars. Maybe they have a plan for better cars, but plan on importing.

    Closing a plant sounds like closing shop, but a small plant like that (especially not utilized) is not profitable – increasing sales or not. And that plant didn’t’ build each model, so they had to import anyway.

    I haven’t looked at a mitsu closely for years, but know they have robust technology (probably becasue by now their technology should be mature). they could become the Dacia of USA. On the other hand, the US is a very competitive market, cars here being much cheaper than in any other country. So leaving this place may make sense. the US is a great market for large volume cars, or premium cars. Not Mitsubishi.

    • 0 avatar

      I believe that plant is unionized, too, which doesn’t help production costs, probably owing to its foundation under a joint venture with Chrysler (in order to get around import quotas).

      • 0 avatar
        jpolicke

        They are. I recall reading somewhere that in one of their prior contract negotiations, [which always involved major drama and strike votes] in order to get wage concessions Mitsu promised to keep the plant open till… about now. This decision was made years ago.

    • 0 avatar
      DweezilSFV

      Record profits this year as stated in the link provided by WMBA above.

      Mitsubishi has already surpassed 2014 in sales. Nearly 100,000 units is not a lot, but better than the article claims as not reaching prior year’s levels.

  • avatar
    SpinnyD

    And they are gone………

    http://www.japantoday.com/category/business/view/mitsubishi-motors-to-end-u-s-production

  • avatar
    ydnas7

    If the US factory was costing Mitsubishi money that would otherwise be spent on improving their business, then this could actually be a good thing for the brand in the USA. At least it was for Mitsubishi in Europe to shut down their Belgium factory.

    If they bring the Outlander PHEV to USA, then its a sign that Mitsubishi is here to stay. If Mitsubishi does not bring the Outlander PHEV to USA, then it deathwatch time.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      It’s not a deathwatch if they walk away from the US market and make cars and money elsewhere. They’ve already decided their home market is Asia, not North America, and they’re profitable. For a deathwatch, the company has to DIE, not prosper elsewhere.

  • avatar
    fvfvsix

    I will celebrate the day the last US-bound Mitsubishi rolls off the boat. Crummy car companies deserve to die. I love capitalism :)

    …and yes, I have had some really bad dealings with Mitsu NA back in my “…and you didn’t even have bad credit” days.

  • avatar
    Rudolph

    And of course , there was the Mitsubishi A7M

  • avatar

    My guess is that Toyota or Subaru will buy the factory. I believe that both of them are a bit capacity constrained for some popular and profitable north American models.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    Given the history of contentious relations between Mitsu and the local UAW, I suspect that the Illinois plant is going to stay closed until demolished or completely repurposed. If Mitsu ever returns to US manufacturing, or another transplant needs to expand, it will happen in a RTW state. Mitsubishi will never return to a UAW workforce.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      I suspect you are very correct.

      The value of a 30 yr old assembly plant with attached UAW workforce in a state like Illinois may be very little or nothing.

      Years ago before the state was revealed to be so insolvent, a new owner probably could have extorted some serious incentives for a startup. Then again if Hillary is POTUS in ’17, maybe she will offer up some gravy for old times sake.

      Mr. Elio, have you donated to the Clinton Global Initiative this year?

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    That gruesome Montero pictured above alone, should have killed them when it came out. What mashup of contorted angles, curves and lines. Perhaps they were going for that pre-wrecked look. Hideous.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I think the Montero is very handsome, and doesn’t even look too outdated today. They look excellent with two-tone as well. The plain silver with plain non-shined tires isn’t the best look.

      It was one of their best products, by the way.

  • avatar
    CaseyLE82

    Mitsubishi used to make cool cars, and cool, interesting SUVs. The Montero Sport in the 90’s was one of the coolest SUVs I thought. At 17 I was DYING to have one. My parents got me a Cherokee instead.

    In the 90’s the Eclipse was cool too, but it stopped being cool somewhere around 2000.

    The Diamante was amazing! I have always been a fan of big sedans and that one was one of the coolest ones I’ve seen in my life.

    The last interesting car Mitsubishi made was the Endeavor and they killed that in 2011.

    I can’t think of a reason to buy a NEW Mitsubishi…a used one tho? Yes, please!

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    With today’s skyrocketing SUV prices, Mitsubishi could do quite well to bring over the Montero and sell it in the $20k-$30k price range. It’s maybe not Honda/Toyota quality, but a huge undercut on price makes up for that. Everyone buying a Subaru outback/Forester will have to take a second look at a V6 real deal SUV for the same price.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      “Mitsubishi could do quite well to bring over the Montero and sell it in the $20k-$30k price range.”

      I think you’ve missed something here. Even in the early 00’s, the Montero was over $45,000 in Limited trim, with the XLS going for $38-39 somewhere in there. It’s a large SUV loaded with equipment, and is capable off road as well.

      In 2003, the Limited trim of the Montero Sport was even $33,000.

      And as another point – the Shogun available in the UK presently runs from $41,000 – $57,000. They are simply not a cheap vehicle.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    In 2002 they still had the new Montero, a new Galant and Eclipse, and the new weird little Outlander (which everyone forgets about, and was Forester sized). Oh, and the Diamante was new too, if you wanted to spend way too much money on a crap sedan.

    But after that – down down they went. Honestly, how many “new” cars have they introduced since 2003? I can think of the Outlander and variants – so two? And the second model of the Outlander pictured above… yeah that was always crappy and cheap looking.

    I still like the Montero (a lot), and I still maintain they’re a good buy if you can find one that isn’t all jacked up from a BHPH type owner. Seven seats, comfortable, huge sunroof, well-equipped, good offroad – and not worth much at all! And they sold them here through 06 (and still do in Mexico, by the way).

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      Lancer was new in 2001
      Mirage was new in what, 2013
      iMiev doesn’t matter
      Eclipse was redone in 2005 and killed in 2012

      Don’t forget about the Raider and Endeavor!

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        But how many of those are actually new things, and how many are just a slight rehash!

        And when I said the Outlander above was ugly, I meant Endeavor. I mix those two up constantly. I also can’t believe the little Forester-size Outlander looked like that until 05.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          Well, they tried to move volume products onto a North America only platform in the mid-00s. Eclipse, Endeavor, and Galant. Everything they put on that platform sold way under projections. Probably because they made everything worse.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            VW, take note!

            Also, if their three main entree items were all DSM garbage, I’m not too shocked their sales were under expected.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Mitsubishi thought the Endeavor was going to hit 80K units a year…

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            HAHAHAH

            And look at the interior on this POS. (So much ruched cheap leathers, and all the color of a flight attendant.)

            http://preview.netcarshow.com/Mitsubishi-Endeavor-2004-800-07.jpg

            Let me guess, did they price it the same as the Highlander? That was new then as well.


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