Practicality Will Dictate Mitsubishi's Foreseeable Future
Mitsubishi has quite the storied history, but for car lovers things don’t really kick off until the 1970s, when the company spun off Mitsubishi Motors from its Heavy Industries division. With help from Chrysler, the Japanese company managed a foothold in North America and started escalating volume. Before long, Mitsubishi was delivering economically minded vehicles to the American masses while fleshing out its lineup to include sporting models.
By the 1990s, Mitsubishi was the underdog option for discerning import enthusiasts. But all of those spectacular models gradually started to vanish. The 3000GT disappeared from the market, the Eclipse morphed into an overweight cruiser without the option of all-wheel drive, the Galant lost its excellent VR-4 variant, and the company never bothered to replace any of its previously discontinued performance models to pick up the slack. Eventually, Mitsubishi even abandoned the beloved Lancer Evolution due to hard times.
While it wasn’t abnormal to see Japanese manufacturers cater to mainstream tastes in the 2000s, usually trimming down their performance offerings at the same time, most attempted to reestablish themselves by introducing new/returning performance models (Toyota/Honda) or simply holding onto older sporting models (Nissan) in recent years. Conversely, Mitsubishi has done neither.
However, as conditions continue to improve for the company, speculation has run rampant that it might make another run at an all-wheel drive rally machine bearing the Evo name. Unfortunately, all we’ve seen is the company reviving iconic sporting nameplates for use on less exciting utility vehicles — we’re looking at you, Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross.
That strategy doesn’t appear to be in any danger of changing, either. According to a recent interview between managing director of Mitsubishi UK Rob Lindley and CarThrottle, chasing after performance models is not prudent at this juncture.
“Mitsubishi’s focus is now SUVs, crossover, four-wheel drive, along with alternative fuel technology,” Lindley explained from the floor of the Geneva Motor Show. “Mitsubishi has moved around different brand positionings, whether it’s been Spacestar style vehicles or sports car derivatives, Evo — it’s not had that clarity of focus.”
“As a business that sells 1.2 million cars worldwide, in a global sense, it’s not a big business. If you try and be in all the different segments of the market and follow trends, like sports cars, it would be difficult to be economically viable,” he continued. “I don’t know how many people focus in on that [performance cars] now. I don’t think it’s a large segment of today’s car market.”
It’s understandable that the brand has to follow the money, but this author knows from firsthand experience that a comment like that is not likely to make long-time fans of the brand’s past work any happier. Lindley doesn’t seem worried.
“I don’t think it’s a curse,” he said. “Having any kind of fanbase that has a huge following for a brand is always a massive asset because those type of customers drive other vehicles as well. They may love the historical Evos and sports cars, but there’s a good chance they have other kinds of vehicles in the garage.”
With the Evo out of production since 2016, we’d say there’s an incredibly good chance people have all sorts of other cars in their garage — likely from rival manufacturers. But Linley does have a point. It doesn’t make sound financial sense for Mitsubishi to chase down a small faction of enthusiasts when it can tap into popular trends within the broader market. Still, we believe the car gods would smile on the brand if it did (perhaps with help from Nissan and Renault).
Good faith efforts can go a long way in improving a brand’s image and, while we see Mitsubishi trying hard to right the ship, it’s doing so in the most vanilla way imaginable.
[Images: Mitsubishi Motors]
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