The Mitsubishi Lancer Is Dead: Here's Why
Set aside TTAC’s Midsize Sedan Deathwatch for a moment to mourn the passing of a compact car: the Mitsubishi Lancer.
Motor1 reports production of the Lancer will end in August 2017. There will be no replacement.
Mitsubishi vacated the midsize segment four years ago in the service of providing evidence — along with the defunct Dodge Avenger, Chrysler 200, and Suzuki Kizashi — to support TTAC’s Midsize Sedan Deathwatch. Mitsubishi’s overall U.S. sales volume hasn’t suffered as a result. 2016 was the brand’s fourth consecutive year of improved sales in America.
With plans to bolster its crossover lineup, it now appears Mitsubishi’s U.S. dealers won’t suffer greatly from the loss of the increasingly low-volume Lancer, either — at least, not relative to the recent past.
In an age of less costly fuel and discounted midsize cars, it’s easy to blame the gradual decline of small cars in general for the Mitsubishi Lancer’s disappearance.
Perhaps too easy.
While the U.S. passenger car market slid 9 percent in 2016, a near-700,000-unit drop from 2015 even as the auto industry set records, compact car sales were down just 5 percent. The Lancer’s Japanese-brand competitors, which together own 55 percent of America’s compact car market, collectively increased 3 percent.
In other words, small cars can be sold in America in 2017. But evidently, it’s not easy to sell a small car, initially launched for the 2002 model year, that hasn’t been thoroughly revamped since 2007.
Of course, we knew North America’s second-generation Lancer, which you’ll recall is essentially a successor to the Mirage before the Mirage returned as Mitsubishi’s sub-Lancer model, would eventually die. Mitsubishi couldn’t build this antiquated compact forever.
The Lancer Sportback fled the U.S. market at the end of its 2014 model year. Lauded by the enthusiast press, the Lancer Evolution was cancelled after the 2015 model year, though more than 100 Evos languish on dealer lots, according to Cars.com inventory.
Moreover, Mitsubishi’s CEO more than one year ago quite strongly indicated that midsize and compact cars weren’t part of the automaker’s future plans.
The Lancer’s death is all the more official now that Don Swearingen, executive vice president of Mitsubishi’s North American operations, told Motor1 the Lancer’s run ends for good this year. The brand will focus its car portfolio on the Mirage instead. Yes, that Mirage, which according to Swearingen, “our customers love.”
Having long since realized there’s no suitable partner to supply a Galant replacement, and even now with Renault-Nissan’s stake in Mitsubishi clearly not providing a suitable compact partner, Mitsubishi turns to small crossovers instead. The aging Outlander and Outlander Sport already account for more than six out of every ten Mitsubishi sales in America.
Replacements will presumably draw on a legion of utility vehicle concepts revealed over the last half-decade: AR, GC-PHEV, HR-PHEV, HR-PHEV II, eX, and GT-PHEV.
Mitsubishi, of course, hasn’t always been quick off the draw in the crossover sphere. Promising a turbocharged, compact CUV in 2018 that “ will be the best vehicle Mitsubishi has ever produced,” we’re reminded that Mitsubishi has routinely promised the North American arrival of the Outlander Plug-In Hybrid and failed to deliver.
As for the Lancer, nearly 70,000 of which were sold in 2002, its first full year in the U.S., yet sales have declined in 10 of the last 14 years. Lancer sales plunged by two-thirds between 2002 and 2006, when the Lancer last approached a replacement phase. In 2016, Lancer sales in the U.S. were 79-percent lower than in 2002; 54-percent lower than in 2007. Last year, Mitsubishi sold one Lancer for every 26 Honda Civics, one Lancer for every 15 Nissan Sentras, one Lancer for every three copies of the defunct Dodge Dart.
The availability of all-wheel drive apparently does the Lancer no favours. Combined city/highway fuel economy maxes out at 30 miles per gallon: the Civic and Elantra both reach 35 mpg. In a review of an all-wheel-drive 2017 model, Car And Driver complained about the engine, transmission, steering, non-telescoping steering column, seats, trunk, and interior materials, “as if Mitsubishi is sourcing its plastics from a couple of decades ago.”
Unloved and unpopular, the Mitsubishi Lancer clearly deserves to die. In the past, this kind of death in the family prompted many to question Mitsubishi Motors’ future.
In 2017, however, Nissan’s investment in the firm limits questions regarding the overall brand’s viability.
But a budget-priced brand that offers two small crossovers and one Chevrolet Spark-fighting small car isn’t exactly smack dab in the middle of the mainstream, either.
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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