Mitsubishi Rebrands, but Will It Work?
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.
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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...
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?