Image Makeover Won't Be Easy, Says Mitsubishi's North American Boss, but at Least People Are Buying Its Cars

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Mitsubishi North America CEO Fred Diaz knows people think of his company as a purveyor of vehicles with a singular appeal: their affordability. The flip side of the coin is that people think the brand’s lineup is cheap, in the negative sense. Something must be done.

The regional boss of the automaker with the saddest Detroit auto show display knows that stigmas aren’t erased overnight. But he’s got ideas on how to turn things around. In the meantime, Americans are going out and purchasing ever greater numbers of the company’s cars. Especially last month.

Mitsubishi’s positively glowing after last month’s tally rolled in. The best May in 11 years, it claims, with sales up 31.7 percent on a year-over-year basis. Over the first five months of 2018, Mitsu sales rose 19.7 percent over 2017’s figures.

No longer in danger of going belly up, the recent inductee to the Renault-Nissan Alliance needs time to flesh out its lineup with jointly developed products. An Eclipse Cross crossover is as exciting as things’ll get in the very near future. But before those future French-Japanese creations start pouring into dealers, Mitsubishi needs to change people’s perception of the brand.

“How do we make sure that we’re taking care of the brand so we’re not spending too much from an incentive standpoint that makes our product look like a distressed product and a distressed brand?” Diaz said in an interview with Automotive News. To pull it off, Diaz says they’ll need to learn “how to discipline ourselves, to rein ourselves back in and quit being the high-value-only brand, but more of the great-quality, great-value brand,” he added.

Diaz wants more regional offices, instead of just the east/west regions it currently has, to prevent lonelier dealers from feeling neglected. He admits some feel exactly this way. “Some of it was our fault,” he said. More dealer coverage in big markets like California and Texas is also on the CEO’s to-do list.

So, how did Mitsubishi fare last month on a model-by-model basis? Bigly.

As remaining discontinued Lancers drain from lots (380 sold in the U.S. in May), the butt-of-many-jokes Mirage recorded a 32.4 percent year-over-year sales gain. It’s still down for the year, but not by much. Launched in February, the compact, polarizing Eclipse Cross continued its slow climb, rising to 851 vehicles sold in May.

The automaker’s bread and butter remains the aging Outlander and Outlander Sport, the latter of which competes with the Eclipse Cross in the same segment (lovers of 70-series tires know which one they prefer). Outlander sales rose 32.1 percent, year over year, last month, with its smaller namesake model recording an 18.2 percent gain. While far from the newest or best-reviewed models in their segment, the brand’s value proposition saw both vehicles record year-to-date sales increases of 25.4 percent and 54 percent, respectively. The long-delayed Outlander PHEV plug-in hybrid added another 297 sales to the ledger.

Mitsubishi’s product future remains obscured by clouds, though the automaker claims it desires a sedan and pickup (maybe!) in addition to more crossovers. Until then, brand die-hards, if indeed they still exist, can enjoy cringey marketing ploys like this:

Consider this sufficiently “lit.”

— Mitsubishi USA (@mitsucars) June 4, 2018

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Jun 05, 2018

    "The best May in 11 years, it claims" Is this up for debate?

  • Mike-NB Mike-NB on Jun 06, 2018

    "SCE to Aux." Now there's an obscure reference. I hadn't noticed you username before this. R.I.P Alan Bean.

  • Ajla "Gee, wonder why car (as well as home) insurance rates are much higher in places like Florida..." Severe weather is on the list but even if a benevolent genie reverted the climate to circa 1724 I think FL would still have high cost. Our home insurance rates have increased 102% since 2021 and I don't think weather models account for that much of a change in that period. Florida's insurance assignment of benefit regulation meant that it had ~80% of the country's of the insurance lawsuits on ~12% of the nation's claims and litigated claims can be expensive to insurance companies. The state altered some regulations and is having some success on getting more companies back, even with the severe weather risks, through relatively bipartisan efforts. With car insurance just beyond the basic "Florida" stuff, the population increase of the past few years is overwhelming the roads. But, I think the biggest thing is we have very low mandated car insurance levels. Only $10K personal injury and $10K property damage. No injury liability needed. And 20% of the state has no insurance. So people that actually want insurance pay out the nose. Like I commented above my under/uninsured coverage alone is 2.5x my comprehensive & collision.
  • Juan Let's do an 1000 mile drive and see who gets there first.
  • Eliyahu CVT needed for MPG. Outback is indeed the legacy of, err, the Legacy.
  • Gayneu I can comment on these. My wife always thought the Minis were "cute" so I bought her a used 2005 (non-S, 5 speed) for one of her "special" birthdays. She loved it and I kinda did too. Somehow a hole developed in the transmission case and the fluid drained out, ruining the car (too expensive to fix). A local mechanic bought it for $800.We then bought a used 2015 S (6 speed) which we still have today (80k miles). Her sister just bought a used S as well (also manual). It has been a dependable car but BMW-priced maintenance and premium gas hurts for sure. I think the earlier generation (like in the article) were better looking with cleaner lines. The 2015 S rides too stiff for me (Chicago roads) but is a hoot on smooth ones. It does seem to shift weird - its hard to describe but it shifts differently from every other manual I have driven. No matter how hard I try, so won't let go of her Mini.
  • Crown Seems like they cut some cylinders too.A three cylinder...where are they planning on selling that??