By on June 23, 2020


Is Mitsubishi about to try on Fiat’s shoes? After the Japanese automaker’s CEO presented a new business plan that aligns with the goals of its alliance bunk mates late last week, it’s starting to look that way.

The Mirage maker, suddenly eager to save cash and firm up its foundation, plans to pull back in the North American market, preferring instead to focus on Southeast Asia and other overseas environs. It’s not that the brand wasn’t growing its sales in the U.S. and Canada; it was. Its dealer network was steadily adding stores, too, and 2019 was the brand’s best sales year since 2007.

What we ask you today is: should “pulling back” turn into pulling out?
Mitsubishi CEO Takao Kato stated that the brand’s push for growth in N.A. hasn’t been as successful as it would have liked. A skimpy product lineup might have something to do about that — something scarce development dollars preceding its alliance entry didn’t help, and turmoil following didn’t, either. Two crossovers in the compact class, one of them ancient, and a midsize CUV that’s long in the tooth but admittedly offers a cost-effective plug-in hybrid option. Oh, and the subcompact Mirage, a passenger car that actually saw its annual sales volume rise in 2019. A rare feat.

Given the fact that all Mitsubishi products originate overseas (the company offloaded its sole U.S. assembly plant years ago), one wonders about the bargain basement Mirage’s profit margins.

In what seems now like a lifetime ago, Mitsubishi regularly sold more than 300,000 vehicles per year in the U.S.; that trend ended after 2002. Recall the lineup back then! Oh yeah… The brand’s volume subsequently sank to less than 40,000 units in the dismal year of 2009, rising to 57,790 in 2012, 96,267 in 2016, and a decade-long high of 121,046 units in 2019.

Kato’s words seem to indicate there’ll be no return to glory for the brand on thes shores. No (legit) resurrection of cool nameplates from years past. No sports car, no pickup, no reason to get excited. If new product is indeed slated for this market, Kato didn’t provide any indication of that. His words seemed to herald a wind-down of the brand’s operations above anything else. Unlike Fiat, which returned to North America only to immediately extinguish itself like a wet campfire, Mitsubishi showed some promise over the course of the 2010s, if sales numbers mean anything (this may not be your truth, as the kids say — your author just happens to reside near a remarkably healthy Mitsubishi market).

The brand might not be for everyone, but one could see the addition of new product helping its now former goal in North America. Alas, the pandemic and the whims of the alliance have forced its hand.

So, let’s play You Make The Call. Should Mitsubishi vacate North America, or try to soldier on with its current lineup, with prospective buyers wondering if their would-be ride belongs to a soon-dead brand?

[Image: Mitsubishi]

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21 Comments on “QOTD: Total Eclipse of the Brand?...”

  • avatar

    Mitsu hasn’t offered any truly competitive products in the US in many years. They are a dead brand walking, and have been for a long time.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. I believe this is sad for US customers though. Soon to be one less choice in the market, in my opinion. As a middle aged guy, the last Mitsu’s I enjoyed were the 3000 GT and the Montero. A case could certainly be made for the Evolution too.

  • avatar

    Has FCA management ever said, openly, that they were going to put Fiat in the US on the back burner, and turn off the fire? There have been action aplenty: zeroing out the advertising budget, no new models, raising the price of the 500, after dropping the price in 2017, then dropping the 500, which accounted for a third of their sales. But I don’t recall management openly saying they were going to ignore the US market, wrt Fiat.

    That makes Mitsu’s position worse than Fiat. The folks that buy Mitsus may not have heard about it, but the dealers surely have. Who is going to put a lot of effort into selling Mitsus, now that the company has openly said it doesn’t care anymore? I expect Mitsu dealers to bail faster than Fiat dealers have been.

  • avatar

    Hat tip to the 80’s and 90’s in a 5 word title. Very clever.

  • avatar

    Back in 2015 I bought my wife a new off the lot Outlander Sport. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it was an AWD CUV with a 100K warranty and a very reasonable price point. That car served us well for 90K miles and was on track for many more before a insurance total due to hail made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

    Here in Erie PA where we have a very good dealer who has just sunk a ton of money into expanding, Mitsubishis are relatively thick on the ground. There are a lot of people on a budget who look at a new Outlander Sport vs a used something else. There are even quite a few Mirages on the ground, again with a long warranty they serve as an entry level car.

    For all of you lamenting the base model stripper cars of yore, of the transaction prices through the roof on new cars, Mitsubishi has a place in that market. Maybe nobody aspires to buying a new Mitsubishi, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a place in the automotive landscape. I for one will be sad to see them go, for the loss of local jobs, and for the competition that keeps other pricing in line.

    • 0 avatar

      Bravo, someone that has common sense. I am not a fan of mitsu but I owned a Mirage and was the most reliable car I have owned. Was loud and did not handle great, but it never let me down. I got a Lancer AWD since the price was 4k cheaper than a suburu after and at 124k was still working without anything being replaced. Most want tech and turbos but do not realize how unreliable that will make the cars. I have chip in my windshield of my 2020 Civic and it will cost around 920 for parts to replace since I have the BS Honda sensing. Most bitch about car prices going up but they want more stuff standard, yet Mitsu offers basic no frills transport for under 15k or 20k if you want a CUV. Stop being hypocrites!

  • avatar

    Not sure after the Covid19 problems, but if any Chinese OEM is still looking to get into the US market, grabbing dying Mitsu dealers might be one approach. It would probably be a similar sales demographic.

  • avatar

    Mitsubishi will find out that like GM a company cannot cut its way to prosperity.

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    It’s a shame. The growth that Mitsubishi has been enjoying in North America is a clear indicator that the market WILL consider the brand. And everyone I know who owns or has owned a Mitsubishi in recent years tells me the same thing: Nothing fancy but it was reliable, reasonably priced and served us quite well.

    Can we say the same thing about Nissan? A pullback or pullout by Mitsubishi from North America would confirm what I already think: That the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance is doomed and their turn-around plans are completely realistic.

  • avatar

    If you’re wanting to grow in the American markets, you need to build cars the Americans want–even if they don’t buy them. In other words, you need to build a “halo” car that suggests what they do end up buying will have some of that ‘feel’ built in. Besides, there will always be at least a few who actually PURCHASE that halo car.

  • avatar

    Should have withdrawn in 2015 after the DSM plant in Normal, Ill. was closed.

  • avatar

    I do agree that Mitsubishi hasn’t been special since the 90’s. Bringing the Mirage a few years ago was a mistake, and they could have updated/refined their current lineup better. But now that they are tied together with Nissan, perhaps they can build more vehicles with their platforms. The next Outlander + Sport will be shared with the Rogue, and maybe they can have their own version of the Pathfinder, Frontier, and Z (as long as it’s not just a rebadging). They could also be sportier than their Nissan donors, and perhaps they could be a better player than they are now.

  • avatar

    Considering the history and lineage still makes me sad to see them leaving completely. Like getting out of a toxic relationship, the love has long been lost but when it’s finally over it’s still somewhat sad at the end.

  • avatar

    My impression of the current Mitsubishi was that they were competing in the “cheap and cheerful” end of the spectrum, which somewhat overlaps with where its parent company Nissan now operates.

    Given the current economy, maybe having two brands in this area would actually work.
    Lets say they move the current models from their ancient platform and engine family shared with Chrysler Sebring to a slightly newer Renault-Nissan CMF and move production to Nissan factories in US or Mexico. Would the production cost be less or more than their current situation? Nissan does have a lot of excess capacity now, don’t they?

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Biro

      Varezhka… good thoughts. But it seems the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance is in inward-looking mode right now. As others have said… they can’t cut their way to profitability. But their in-over-their-heads management is going to try.

  • avatar

    My dealership sold Oldsmobiles and Mitsubishis some years ago. One day my father came to visit and looked up at the sign on the left and said “Mitsubishi? I used to shoot them down!”

  • avatar

    If Mitsubishi can plug-in-hybridize all its CUVs…with power, range, and battery longevity comparable to the Toyota RAV-4 PHEV Prime but at a third less price — then they can utterly own a niche with good growth potential, much like Subaru seeing the potential in AWD years ago. If not, then I don’t see what their niche is. The Outlander PHEV is a good little rig but its development is perpetually five years behind. The Eclipse is way more desirable to me than a Trax, but that’s a low bar. The Mirage is a boon to low-income buyers, but those are low-profit sales.

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