Text: Inigo S. Roces / Photos: Newspress USA, Mitsubishi | posted December 03, 2015 17:29
Mitsubishi to channel its resources into a more compact, but robust lineup
Mitsubishi Motors Corp. (MMC) CEO, Osamu Masuko, told Automotive News that the end is nigh for the Lancer, Galant and i-MiEV.
Masuko said Mitsubishi doesn't have the resources to develop one alone and hasn't been able to find a partner to supply one. The company was in talks with Renault SA until plans fell through. Mitsubishi is currently not in talks with any other automaker, he said.
The company recently closed its Normal, Illinois assembly plant, its only one in the US. Instead, production will be concentrated in Japan, Russia and Southeast Asia.
The plan is to channel its resources into a more compact, but robust lineup.
The company will rely on models like the Thailand-made Mirage and its sedan variant. Like the Philippines, the US-market 4-door Mirage will also be called the G4 and is expected to arrive in their market in March or April.
Further down the line, the head of the Japanese carmaker pointed to upcoming crossovers to fortify Mitsubishi’s fragile US market rebound in five years. These will be composed of the Outlander Sport (ASX) and Outlander. The Outlander Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) will follow in the US market by the middle of next year.
To keep the models fresh until their full-model changes, Mitsubishi will roll out "big minor changes," such as the retooled Outlander Sport and face-lifted Mirage subcompact hatchback.
A third coupe-styled crossover is planned to arrive in late 2017, positioned between the Outlander and Outlander Sport. A full-model change for the Outlander will arrive “sometime after 2017,” and the next-generation Outlander Sport will arrive around 2019, Masuko said.
The lineup overhaul is hoped to capitalize on Mitsubishi’s crossovers, which account for 58 percent of its U.S. volume. The have helped its U.S. sales climb 25 percent to 80,683 vehicles as of October, thanks to booming crossover demand.
As for the i-MiEV, Mitsubishi has no plans of producing another small, purely electric vehicle to replace it. Instead, it is looking into electrified drivetrains as variants to the standard gasoline versions. Its successor is seen in the Outlander Sport, which will have an all-electric powertrain alongside its traditional gasoline model.
This refocusing on crossovers will help Mitsubishi prioritize investments and cut costs.
This news only serves to reinforce plans first revealed by MMC’s president, Tetsuro Aikawa, which AutoIndustriya was able to interview in the recent Tokyo Motor Show.
“We feel that PHEVs can be the pillar of our business,” he revealed. “First of all, PHEVs can be charged at home, like a household appliance. Once electricity runs out, it can be charged by the petrol motor. The running distance is equivalent to a regular gasoline engine-powered vehicle.”
“We believe that, more than EV, PHEV will be more viable for the consumers,” he noted.
He, too, confirmed the end of the Lancer, but not the end of the “Evolution” line.
“Because there's no demand for the sedan, we have no plans to develop the sedan anew… in the future, these types of high performance vehicles could be realized in PHEV SUVs. I strongly feel that this is indeed an “Evolution” vehicle which takes into consideration the needs of the environment. We haven't started on concrete development, but this is what I have in mind for future development.”
Mitsubishi also has no plans for a next-generation full-size Pajero SUV, Masuko said. The Pajero, sold as the Montero in the US, was discontinued in 2006, owing to rising emissions regulations.
To keep better tabs on emissions rules and safety regulations, Mitsubishi is dispatching for the first time an official from Japan to serve at its Washington, D.C., regulatory outpost. This is hoped to establish better communications between the head office in Japan and U.S. regulators.
Mitsubishi will also follow other automakers in setting up an advanced technology office in Silicon Valley to monitor the latest developments in autonomous driving and artificial intelligence. That office opens in January and initially will be staffed by two Japanese employees, said Masuko, who visited in May to lay the groundwork.