Image Makeover Won't Be Easy, Says Mitsubishi's North American Boss, but at Least People Are Buying Its Cars
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.” pic.twitter.com/S3sjmEHs89
— Mitsubishi USA (@mitsucars) June 4, 2018
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