By on October 31, 2017

Mitsubishi e-Evolution Concept

As I scanned my social media feeds last week, I noticed a fair amount of journalists posting that they were headed to the Tokyo Motor Show on Mitsubishi’s dime. While automaker-funded junkets to an international auto show aren’t uncommon – I’ve been on such trips myself – the fact that it was Mitsubishi footing the bill for international airfare and hotels in one of the world’s most expensive cities raised my eyebrows.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a screed about journalistic ethics and press junkets. I only mention it because automakers don’t spend that kind of money on media without a purpose. They have something in mind that they want covered, and while they won’t attempt to dictate that the journalists report only glowingly about what they’re doing (at least I hope not), they will expect coverage, even if it’s neutral or negative, from those they flew out there. All publicity being good publicity, that sort of thing.

Usually when an OEM spends that kind of money to fly 30-40 media out, they have a major product unveil in mind. Something that enthusiasts and/or brand loyalists are excited about. Again, the money is spent with a purpose.

So it was natural for me to hope that the struggling brand might be announcing something awesome. A modern Eclipse. A 3000GT successor. A new Evo to fight the WRX/Civic Type R/Golf R/Focus RS.

But what Mitsubishi did instead is talk about rebranding. And not for the first time.

Sure, the company mentioned future product, and I will get to that in a bit. But it’s getting frustrating to hear a lot of talk and not much action.

Mitsubishi can not get by on two middle-of-the-road crossovers and a cheap compact car only*. Nor can it continue to try to tout its leadership in green tech (a claim partially based on its gimmicky i-MiEV electric car and the available of a PHEV Outlander, and partially based on a bevy of PHEV and electric concepts). It also lost some of its rally cred, which only matters to a small subset of buyers anyway, when it killed off the Evo. Of course, the Evo was dying a slow death anyway, since the company did a fine job with its performance but ignored that even enthusiasts care about nice interiors and convenience features.

*Yes, I am aware the brand’s model mix is much larger outside of the U.S. That includes Canada, which still offers the Lancer. This post is about Mitsubishi and the American market, because that’s where the brand really needs to improve. (Though most of my points can also apply to the Canadian market, as well.)

Being part of the Renault-Nissan Alliance could have advantages for the brand, if it can figure out how to best leverage its place in CEO Carlos Ghosn’s plan for 2022. That plan includes four common platforms, more common powertrains available across platforms, more electrification, more connectivity, more autonomous tech, 12 EVs that will share platforms and components, 40 vehicles with some level of autonomy, and the operation of a ride-sharing service that uses autonomous cars.

Where exactly Mitsu fits in to all that is hard to say, but I am already concerned. The biggest product news so far involves the upcoming Eclipse Cross crossover and the e-Evolution all-electric SUV concept.

Right off the bat, I’m annoyed that two of the brand’s strongest model names have been moved to different types of product, thus diluting whatever meaning they had. But more importantly, while both crossovers and EVs are no doubt going to gobble up ever-increasing shares of the market in the near future, the net should still be cast wider.

In other words, I don’t fault Mitsu for launching a compact crossover as the first step in an overall larger re-brand. Crossovers are hot. I do take issue with the name (not only does it steal Eclipse but it also sounds silly), but given that the crossover market is nuts, it makes sense.

What the brand really needs to do is build quality product, price it right, and stay current with trends and tech. That’s sort of why it’s in this mess – a long attempt to sell value-priced cars that are either behind the times and/or decontented compared to the competition made it into a brand that’s only really appealing to the most price-conscious consumers.

Add in a recent fuel-economy controversy and a lack of overall product, and you have a recipe for trouble.

One more step that would help the company get out of trouble: save revered nameplates for re-born versions of said cars. If you want to use the Eclipse name, it had better be on a fun, affordable two-door sports car, for example.

Look, it’s easy for me to play unpaid keyboard consultant. But it doesn’t seem like it would be that hard for the company to make the Mirage more livable without a significant price increase (the Mirage G4 is a start, albeit a small step in the right direction). Nor does it seem hard to imagine an Outlander that competes on more than just price, a solid compact crossover, a reborn Lancer with Evo companion, and maybe a seven-seat crossover that’s larger than the Outlander (which can also seat seven, of course). Something in the Chevy Traverse size range.

If we’re really dreaming, we’d like another Eclipse coupe, 3000GT sports car, and Nissan Frontier-based truck. And yes, hybrid/PHEV models would need to be available where appropriate. An EV that can actually be daily driven would help, too.

The product would have to be quality built and priced/optioned correctly, which is no easy task, but certainly doable. Mitsubishi isn’t where it is just because of its fuel-economy scandal or attempts to chase value-sensitive buyers, but because it neglected both quality and content for so long. The chase after value is part of the problem in both of these areas, but other makes have shown how to build nice cars at affordable prices. Hyundai’s not perfect, but it could provide a template, for example.

Mitsubishi can fly journalists all over the place and convene executives for grand speeches and one-on-one interviews, but marketing muscle and PR only goes so far. If there’s no product, or the product is so bad that only the most price-conscious shoppers set foot in the showrooms, this re-brand is doomed to fail.

A good speech is great, a great (or even just good) product mix is better. The good news is Mitsubishi has more chances to prove that it’s working on the later, as the American swing of the international auto show circuit begins soon. Hopefully, at some point between now and next spring, there will be a clearer picture of the brand’s roadmap, and it will include more than just electric SUV concepts.

Otherwise, we’ll be running a Mitsubishi deathwatch here at TTAC.

[Image: Mitsubishi]

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30 Comments on “Mitsubishi Rebrands, but Will It Work?...”


  • avatar
    ciscokidinsf

    As the resident Mitsubishi lover and apologist, my plan to save Mitsu (before Nissan acquisition) was:

    Go high on SUVs (Do a CUV based on the Mirage) Keep the iMIEV around (the cheapest electric car in the market, sometimes is good to be the low end, governments and cheapstakes would pick the iMIEV by default) To consider, Suzuki had to give a big part of itself away (for a second time) to get Hybrid/Electric car tech. So Mitsu was at least better off having some hybrid tech.

    I would’ve pick the Lancer hatchback (ahem, ‘sportback’) to soldier on a few more years. No need for a full or midsize sedan at all in the USA – go SUV/CUV crazy and PHEV crazy to survive and maintain the Mirage/Lancer and CUVs based in them for a while

    While part of this plan remains (the new SUVs are coming) the rest is weak sauce. I was hoping Nissan would at least inject some vitality. Doesn’t seem to be happening. If by 2020 Mitsu doesnt significantly shake their product, they will die. By now, you would think at least they would be some re-badging going while we wait for new product. It doesnt seem to be.

    However, we did have a Mitsubishi deathwatch after Suzuki died in 2013, right? but Mitsu made a comeback with the Mirage. So who knows.

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    no!

  • avatar
    Verbal

    “…more common powertrains available across powertrains…”

    Huh.

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Brisbane

    Maybe there could be a death watch on auto shows. They have all gone here in Oz but for one which alternates yearly between Melbourne and Sydney.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      I think auto shows have some things to be concerned about, at least when it comes to press days (the public days still draw plenty of crowds), but I think they will adapt and remain part of the business. I suspect Oz lost its shows because the Australian auto industry is no more, sadly.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Rebranding…
    Is this similar to Comcast trying to masquerade as Xfinity?

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Don’t they need stores/dealerships to sell the rebranded vehicles? The last Mitsubishi dealership i was in was at the end of a GMC/Cadillac/Lincoln/Nissan/Public Auto Auction/Mitsubishi/Buick dealership. The Mitsubishi seemed lower class that the Public auto Auction. I had a case of the sadz, Mitsubishi needs to fix that fast.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Mitsu used to be everywhere. In 2002 they sold 97,343 Galants in the US. And then they bloated it. They sold more Outlanders in 2003 than they sell today. They followed trends set by other manufacturers, lost its character; and in the process never executed well under new rules, and… soon it will be goner.

  • avatar
    Truckducken

    Deathwatch? They’re already dead in the USA, they just haven’t admitted it yet. And I don’t know how they mount a comeback under Nissan, since the parent has already cornered the market on subprime buyers. Stick a fork in it already.

  • avatar
    Hummer

    What are they going to rebrand as if they’re no longer virtue signaling about being a leader in hybrids, EVs, and other things that don’t sell? The cheapest junk on the market didn’t seem to work either. Maybe they could try their 80s and 90s strategy of being a value Toyota brand with SUVs like the Montero and compact pickups, the markets low on real SUVs and has no compact trucks…. that could work.

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    If I was running Mitsubishi this is what I’d add to lineup in North America.

    Long wheelbase Shogun

    Triton Pickup – keep it as a compact truck just a bit smaller than midsize trucks. Assemble from knockdown kits in Mexico to avoid the Chicken Tax.

    Small Sedan and Wagon – versions of the Renault Megane. Use Nissan engines and transmissions certified for North America if appropriate. Minimal changes to exterior and interior, just change the logos. Import from Turkey, it’s already assembled there and it’s a low cost facility.

    Sports Car – this is the moon shot – Mitsubishi and Nissan to jointly design and build the IDx sports car concept. Mitsu sells AWD version and Nissan sells RWD version.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    What makes anyone think that Mitsubishi has the engineering talent to improve its product line enough to survive?

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      “Mitsubishi Motors was the sixth biggest Japanese automaker and the sixteenth biggest worldwide by production”

      They must have something. Plus, they still have big parent – Mitsu corporation, which can supply electronics, parts, equipment, etc. The potential is there. It just seems that nobody wants to do anything

  • avatar
    ajla

    “even enthusiasts care about nice interiors and convenience features.”

    meh.

  • avatar
    AtoB

    The solution is simple!

    Bring back the Zero

  • avatar
    threeer

    Previous owner of two Mitsu products here…one way back, the other much more recently. First was a captive-import 1978 Plymouth Arrow GT. Balanced-shaft 2.0, 5 speed manual and those great houndstooth seats! The car of my teenage years. Then there was my 2004 Lancer Sportback Ralliart, which was alternatively misidentified as a Volvo or questioned about being a “true” Ralliart by folks much younger than I. My biggest complaint about the Sportback was that it came with only an automatic. But, I bought it for a song as it sat forlornly sitting on a lot squeezed in between rows of used CUVs/SUVs and nobody (especially in the south) wanted a small, used wagon. Despite the auto slushbox, it was one of the more enjoyable cars I’ve owned and the one I kept the longest. It had some sporting pretenses, looked the part without being over-the-top and it was more practical than many of those same CUVs/SUVs it was parked next to when I picked it up. I’d hope the Diamond Star finds it’s way back again, as I’d kind of hate to see them leave our shores.

  • avatar
    doublechili

    FWIW, I was a huge Mitsubishi fan and would love to see them come back. One of my early and much-loved cars was a Dodge Challenger made by them, and I still have a Mitsu amp/preamp combo from the 80s that is awesome. And if I ever stumble on a clean Starion I’d love to own one.

    Hopefully whatever they do, they get it right.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    If they could federalize and bring over the Montero IV with a few minor updates, I bet it would sell in reasonable enough numbers to be profitable.

    The bigger issue is definitely one of brand perception, one driven largely by their dealership experience. I went and looked at a used GX470 last year at a Mitsu dealer in the nice part of town. The sales staff gave off a pretty sleazy vibe. Contrast that to the Subaru dealership where the salesman was knowledgeable, polite, personable, and professional. The biggest difference was not reeking of desperation like the Mitsu people. I’ve also been to a Mitsu dealer in a bad part of town a few years back to look at an elusive lower mileage Montero Limited. That experience was arguably even worse, beaten in shadiness only by a Nissan dealership I made the mistake of setting foot in once.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    Mitsubishi’s problem was terrible reliability, compounded by not changing any of their products since 2005, let alone fixing said reliability. Nissan is the least reliable of the Japanese Big 3, so they can’t help.

  • avatar
    xtoyota

    Visit a dealer and you find it in a very low rent area with the worst dealer reputation……. no money – no credit go to a Mits dealer.
    This is what I see in Wisconsin

  • avatar
    Tennessee_Speed

    I can’t decide if those two pods on top of the SUV concept are dual mini-surf boards or twin machine gun mounts. Either way they have to be removed from the production version.

  • avatar
    CincyDavid

    I have never owned a Mitsubishi automobile…did buy a Mitsubishi TV and VCR back in the 90s that were terrific and lasted a LONG time but that was it.

    When I think of their cars I think of a maroon Galant missing a wheelcover, faded paint, smoking as it accelerates away from the intersection. Mitsubishi screwed up royally when Mitsubishi Motor Credit was giving loans to anyone with a pulse, and that craziness of 12 months no payments on new cars.

    I used to like Nissan too…owned a couple of Sentras and a Stanza that were tough as rocks, but I’d be hard-pressed to buy a new Nissan…Nissan has the bottom feeder stench on them too.

    I’ll be curious to see how this plays out…

  • avatar
    ryanwm80

    I just saw a picture of that silver thing that looks like an SUV, and I don’t think anyone is going to find it visually appealing and want to own one? (I also think this is the main problem with the Acura NSX and Nissan Z). A car should have good design that makes people want to own it, and a good name too. The corporate name should be replaced. ‘Mitsubishi’ sounds kind of weird, and needs to be replaced with something else. The name Eclipse Cross is too weird phonetically, and doesn’t make sense. What’s an Eclipse cross? A cross of an Eclipse? I think a lot of their problems are rooted in the product planning: who comes up with these ideas that don’t appeal to customers? The same people that developed the Isuzu Vehi-cross?

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