By on July 9, 2018

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander rear quarter

At the end of the day, brand perception comes down to product, but no one likes visiting a dingy dealership. As the once-endangered Mitsubishi awaits a slew of lucrative new products (crafted with Nissan’s help), it figures it may as well begin sprucing up its dealer presence — not just in the U.S., but worldwide.

While the automaker’s U.S. division sits back and basks in the glow of June’s 46.2 percent year-over-year sale increase, head office is busy planning 5,000 renovations.

According to Automotive News, Mitsubishi plans to complete its dealer makeover within 6 years, by which time the alliance between the formerly destitute brand and its Renault-Nissan overlords should bear fruit. Maybe even a North American pickup truck, if certain execs get their way.

The dealer revamp kicked off on Independence Day at one West Virginia store and another in Texas. By the end of March 2019, Mitsubishi claims it should have 25 of its 354 stores looking fresh and new. Apparently, Mazda’s ongoing image overhaul provided something of a template — Mitsu’s preferred interior color scheme is black, white, and grey, while Mazda’s is black, white, and silver. Classy, premium colors, apparently, though Mazda bolsters the effect with the use of wood.

“The intent is to ensure consistent image of all outlets globally and enhance customer satisfaction,” Mitsubishi CEO Osamu Masuko said in June. “This will help further instill our brand in the markets.”

Image: Mitsubishi Canada

In Canada, Mitsubishi launched a country-wide modernization program early last year, with some dealers gaining wholly new stores. The global makeover applies here, too. Red accents and a “Dynamic Slope” will appear on the exterior of all stores, with well-lit showroom space residing under a black ceiling. Customers will apparently be well-greeted upon entering.

While many look at the brand’s current crop of products and think back wistfully to the days of the (real) Eclipse and 3000GT, today’s customers are buying what Mitsubishi’s selling. Thanks to a big volume increase from its utility vehicle portfolio, the brand’s U.S. sales rose 23.4 percent over the first six months of 2018. Last month was the brand’s best U.S. June showing in the since 2007. In Canada, it was the best June ever, with sales up 18 percent, year over year.

The aging Outlander remains the brand’s best-seller, with U.S. sales up 58.8 percent, year over year, in June. The oft-refreshed Outlander Sport posted a 25 percent YoY increase. Couple those sales with the recent addition of the Outlander PHEV and Eclipse Cross, and utility vehicle sales rose 64.4 percent compared to June 2017. If you’re curious, sales of the three-cylinder Mirage have only slipped 3.7 percent, year to date.

[Image: © 2018 Chris Tonn/TTAC, Mitsubishi Canada]

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29 Comments on “It’ll Take More Than a Dealership Makeover to Propel Mitsubishi Upmarket...”


  • avatar
    CincyDavid

    Yowzers, dumping a huge amount of money for a store makeover would be a giant leap of faith for a Mitsu dealership.

    The interesting thing to me is that 1960s-era VW stores are still recognizable, even if re-purposed. The old Dick Luken VW in Cincinnati has been a self-storage facility for 30 years, but the shape of the VW store building is still obvious.

  • avatar
    tallguy130

    So where is this sales increase coming from because I don’t know anyone that owns or would consider a Mitsubishi. Really, no snark intended, I don’t understand it.

    It’s not driving dynamics, not reputation for quality, they don’t have amazing styling, what is going on here? Is it just super cheap credit?

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t own a Mitsubishi, but strangely, their products do appeal to me. We have great credit (800+) and aren’t strapped for cash. But each time I go to the local auto shows, I’m drawn to them.

      Their very Achilles Heel to many car enthusiasts is what probably draws me in; the utter simplicity of their cars. They’re not over-the-top with technology, are pretty honest-to-goodness in their mechanics, and the styling isn’t fussy. I like the Mirage for being a true modern reincarnation of the Geo Metro, the Outlander Sport for being a practical little runabout with no frills, and even liked the defunct Lancer for the same reasons. Add a reassuring 10 year powertrain warranty for peace of mind.

      That’s just my take, and I can’t speak on behalf of Mitsu buyers. Price and approvals of low credit may be a factor, as the Mitsubishi dealers I’ve visited over the years seem to always make a point that credit, without knowing our score, won’t get in the way of buying their car.

    • 0 avatar
      Dave M.

      It’s got to be cheap credit. I’m surprised they’ve hung on this long; while they have some ok looking products they need to sit in any competitors vehicles and check out interior craftsmanship and materials. The dealer in my area is Hyundai/Mitsubishi…Hyundai can teach them a thing or two about decent interior builds. Even the newest model Cross is lacking.

      I’ve always felt the Outlander Sport was a great design in an Audi-esque sense. Then you get inside and….oof, typical Mitsubishi. 3rd tier all the way.

      • 0 avatar
        SSJeep

        Exactly. Mitsubishi vehicles look okay on the outside – in fact, some look good – but then you get inside and see one of the absolute cheapest interiors you can imagine. There are knockouts everywhere in the dash and console patched over with cheap hole caps. Even in their top of the line Outlander with a remote start key fob, there was a gaping hole next to the steering wheel where a keyed ignition would go, patched over with a haphazard ugly seamed cover. The seats do not go back far enough, so anyone over 5’10” will be cramped. The sunroofs are incredibly cheap and a full panorama is not offered.

        Mitsubishi can be successful if they take risks on some new models and really clean up their interior game. Yes, they also need to clean up their fly by night dealership image.

      • 0 avatar
        deanst

        It’s the warranty. In my (aging) home town, the most common vehicles after pickups are Hyundai’s and Mitsubishi’s”. When you’ve got 10 years of driving left and a fixed income, I guess it’s nice to not have to worry about major repairs.

      • 0 avatar
        RHD

        Mitsubishi is still all about the financing. I was going to mention an ad for the new Eclipse Sport that I kept hearing during a baseball game on the radio, then I saw it advertised on TTAC:
        “Summer savings are now in season. Get 0% financing for 72 months and make no payments for 90 days on select models.”
        This translates to “Our cars aren’t very competitive. If no one else will finance you because your credit is shaky, come see us and settle for what we have.”

    • 0 avatar
      Pete Zaitcev

      They are inexpensive and they work fine. The “quality” is acceptable. I know a guy whose wife was driving an outlander, when a person of a certain genetic makeup in her 30s (and a UX designer at Microsoft) ran a red light and totaled the car. There were no injuries. The reaction of the wife was “lord praise Mitsubishi”. I’m sure a few housewives are going to hear about it from her. The fortunate accident relieved her from the need to deal with that PoS out of warranty.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    With every vehicle today virtually a carbon-copy of a whole class of vehicles, there is little to differentiate one from another; the vast majority of people relying on obsolete brand reputations than doing their own research.

    But worse, the brands themselves COULD differentiate if they wanted to–but that entails risk and every brand but one has become very risk-averse. And while that brand has a very tiny portion of the market, it gets a disproportionately large amount of discussion. Maybe these other brands need to consider that, because Mitsubishi as a brand has literally nothing to entice people to buy their products any more. A great, big, architecturally-imposing showroom isn’t likely to attract customers to a so-so product. A microscopic stable of models mere variants of two core models does not appeal… and I used to own a Mitsubishi and liked their cars (the 3000GT was an amazing car in its day!) Now you see Outlander or Mirage–even the Eclipse Cross is nothing but a slightly re-shaped Outlander. Absolutely nothing to distinguish itself from any other brand. Even a Mitsubishi pickup would at least offer SOME reason to visit, especially if it were smaller than the domestic mid-sized models.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Mitsubishi has proven to be quite resilient, they’ve stayed afloat with some really stale inventory. Their ancient AWC system is still better than most and they’ve got a good warranty. They just need something fresh.

  • avatar
    hamish42

    In southern Ontario we have a paucity of Mitsubishi dealers pushing not-bad cars with phenomenal depreciation out of dingy premises with 1950s garages attached. Not something that makes you whip out your check book. Apparently the “country wide” upgrade you reference didn’t make it here or their definition of upgrade doesn’t match mine.

  • avatar
    LTDwedge

    I have been disappointed by Mitsu’s ever since my
    “free” Starion (a beautiful red w/ black interior)
    manifested its reason for the low price of ownership.
    The car was a beast, ran great, UNTIL, the tilt steering
    column wiring headache. The utter impossibility of
    diagnosing the ONE wire causing a “no-electricals”
    to the ignition switch allowed the vehicle to go to
    the pick-a-part yard where it should have gone in
    the 1st place.

  • avatar
    gtem

    The problem specifically with their dealerships around here was not so much the appearance of the buildings but oftentimes a)location of said building and b)behavior of sales staff. The only store in Indy in a nice part of town (Fishers suburbs) closed down. The two remaining ones that I know of are in pretty shoddy areas (56th/Shadeland and 38th/Lafayette). The Fishers location did insist on me taking a used GX for an overnight test drive so that was pretty awesome of them.

    The cars are nowhere as unreliable as some around here seem to think that they are, but they do tend to lag the competition in terms of the last 5% of power, fuel economy, refinement. But when you can buy the cars for 25% less money, can you live without that last 5%?

    • 0 avatar
      syncro87

      I’d agree that Mitsus are probably not bad on the reliability front. I would change the fives in your last statement to fifteens, and the 25 to 10. In other words, the Mitsu penalty is greater than 5%, and the price differential (net differential to include eventual resale) is less than 25%.

    • 0 avatar
      hondaaustin

      Fortunately, there is another location… the former Andy Mohr Mitsubishi in the Fishers area (I bought a used Malibu there once… it wasn’t a terrible experience) was bought out by Tom Roush and is now at their Lincoln/Mazda location in Westfield. I recently drove by the old Mitsu location and it appears Tom Roush is building out a Lincoln store there.

  • avatar
    Fred

    The only thing I like about luxury dealers (Audi and Acura) is that they don’t hassle you, give you a free loaner and wash your car. Otherwise dealership remodels are for those who value style over substance.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    It will be interesting to see if Mitsubishi (and French brands) can pull this off where Suzuki failed and Hyundai succeeded.

    Mitsubishi owners I’ve talked to always cite the 10-year warranty and report no unusual reliability problems. These are people who don’t need the latest interior gizmos.

    I see lots of brand new Outlanders around. Only two of the PHEV’s so far (but there are lots of them on European roads). My own top-of-wish list is the Outlander PHEV. A bit lacking in clearance, but that can be fixed. Otherwise the current ideal for my combination of vehicle needs.

  • avatar
    Steverino

    So 25 of 354 in a nine months? At that rate it will be almost 11 years before they finish, making this little more than a standard remodel, not a brand refreshening.

  • avatar
    syncro87

    Mitsubishi in the USA according to syncro87, in no particular order (i.e. Mitsubishi’s problems here):

    1. Worse than having zero brand equity to the average consumer, they, at this point, have negative equity. The average person views them as worse than a neutral unknown, but rather as vaguely negative, even though they might not be able to put their finger on why.

    2. Mitsu dealers have been forced over time to rely more and more on subprime buyers, with all this entails. Stores perhaps located in the less affluent areas, or maybe the brand is relegated to a less favorable corner of the dealer’s property. Sales staff has morphed into something you might find at a buy here, pay here lot, eschewing the more consultative approach of a more high line brand store. More upscale or affluent buyers are turned off by this.

    3. Mitsubishi’s product lineup is not particularly broad. For example, if a prospective client visits a Toyota store, the chance is pretty decent that a Toyota salesperson has a product on the lot that might fit the client’s needs. A lot tougher to have a seat for that behind from the position of the M salesperson.

    4. None of their products are class leading. Very few people drive an Outback Sport and think, wow, this is head and shoulders better than anything else comparable that I test drove. I’d opine that you’re getting a car that is 80% as good as a Toyota or Honda. Now, 80% as good might still be fairly good, but if I’m going to take a risk as a buyer, the price had better reflect a pretty massive savings over the established alternatives, all other things being equal.

    5. Dealer network is too thin on the ground. Specialty car buyers may put up with driving 30 miles across the city to get an oil change or have a loose knob fixed under warranty. Jane Average is not going to want to fight through 30 or 40 minutes of gridlock for a simple service visit when they can get their Hondota or Fordrolet fixed a mile from their house.

    I think it is a monumentally difficult task to get Mitsubishi back up to speed in the U.S. It is possible, but man, I don’t see a whole lot of reasons for them to be excited. They don’t have many products, the ones they do have are middling, their stores generally suck, and Americans either don’t know who they are or think they are a B tier brand for people with poor credit.

    I think to succeed they would need to create an identity. My strategy would be to become Subaru lite. Every vehicle is AWD/4wd. Maybe trucks and SUVs only, no traditional passenger cars. Better warranty than anyone else. Bring an attention getter to the market, something nobody else is selling and that is good quality…in other words, start with a vehicle like the new Suzuki Jimny (license it, rebadge it, maybe).

    Potential niches they might be able to exploit? Small basic truck reminiscent of the old Nissan Hardbody. Jeep Wrangler competitor-tough rugged real deal 4×4, less about frills and more about tough. Something like the Ram 700 or VW Saviero. Jimny clone or rebadge. Modern interpretation of the old Geo Tracker / Suzuki Sidekick. Any of these things might make a splash in the US market and get M known for something other than blech.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s a fantastic overview of their dilemma, syncro. After cross-shopping their cars back in 2015, we turned our back on Mitsu for several of the reasons you mentioned.

      Despite living in a major metro area, the nearest Mitsubishi dealer is 20 miles away, which can easily equate to an hour each way in traffic. That’s an annoyance for any maintenance. In contrast, we have a Honda, Ford, Chevy, and Nissan dealer within a mile of home.

      The dealers did seem a little sleazy, and really emphasized, several times, that they can offer easy credit. That’s not a concern for us, and it gave me a feeling of buying from, like you said, a tacky “buy here, finance here” dealer.

      And their products are far from class-leading. That doesn’t bother me too much. But with GM’s and Ford’s generous rebates, we were able to get a larger, more modern car (a Chevy) for less than a comparable new Mitsubishi.

      They do need a unique product to stand out (like you said, a small truck, ala Triton, or small rugged SUV) and improved dealership experience that doesn’t come across as bottom-basement

    • 0 avatar
      stingray65

      Good comment, and you really have to wonder whether there will ever be a financial payoff on any dealer or vehicle improvements they have planned. Their negative brand equity means they will need to offer major discounts and longer warranties relative to the “quality” mainstream brands, which will eat into margins and likely lead to cost cutting that further erodes brand equity. It would be likely be financially smarter just to shut the brand down and give the few quality dealers the opportunity to have a Nissan franchise.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Agreement with previous posters. The issue with Mitsubishi dealers isn’t the *buildings*, it’s the people inside them.

    In Las Vegas, the truly scummiest Mitsu dealer, Jim Marsh, finally gave up his franchise and stuck with KIA.

    I haven’t visited the new franchise, simply called Las Vegas Mitsubishi, but it couldn’t possibly be worse than Jim Marsh was.

    However, they’re still offering a stripped Mirage for $13.5k, while the next-closest dealer, Victorville Mitsubishi in California, has them on their website for $9800.

    Welcome to Las Vegas – it’s not the heat, it’s the stupidity.

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    No dirty Mitsu dealers in my area. Forgotten? Yes. Dated? Yes.

  • avatar
    "scarey"

    Mitsubishi has always puzzled me. They are one of Japan’s largest corporations, they own Mitsubishi Bank, and are affiliated with hundreds of businesses, like Mitsubishi electronics, etc., like other successful Japanese conglomerates. They partnered with Chrysler four decades ago to make small cars- succsessfully, and some of their cars were bulletproof, if not stylish- Dodge Colt foe example. Yet Three Diamonds has never quite put it all together for some reason.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      It saddens me to see how far they’ve fallen as far as completely walking away from their rich offroad racing history, both Rally and Paris-Dakar with their Pajero/Montero line of SUVs. I always keep an eye out for clean Monteros on craigslist, although they are rarer than hen’s teeth these days.

  • avatar
    Carroll Prescott

    Selling a cheap car and third rate CUV’s and SUV’s is not a recipe for success; but the fact that Mitsu is having sales increase so much is proof that subprime buyers have no standards. They want what everyone else wants and won’t let mediocrity of product step in their way to claim they have a new car (with a loan at 18% to go with it).

    I’m happy with my 21 year old CAR. It gets 50 mpgs, cost $10k new, and employed American Autoworkers to build it.


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