Text: Inigo Roces / Photos: Brent Co, Inigo Roces | posted February 01, 2013 13:10
An interview with MMC President Osamu Masuko
Keen eyed motorists have likely already spotted Mitsubishi's new Mirage rolling on the streets. The new global small car was developed on the concepts of high fuel efficiency, affordability and compactness. The vehicle is manufactured in Mitsubishi Motors Thailand, featuring excellent fuel economy, low carbon emissions, optimized equipment for exceptional value and is most of all fun and easy to drive.
It's clearly an important vehicle to the company, with Mitsubishi Motor Corporation (MMC, Japan) President, Osamu Masuko flying in for its recent launch in Manila.
Mitsubishi Motor Philippines Corporation (MMPC) kindly granted select members of the media an audience with him to learn more about the company's special new offering.
"We are concentrating on small size vehicle with high fuel efficiency that is environmentally friendly," Masuko began.
Rather than offer one subcompact and another micro compact as is the trend with other manufacturers, Mitsubishi opted to hit two categories with one vehicle.
"In the small size segment, it competes against the Suzuki Alto and Celerio, Hyundai i10, Toyota Yaris and Honda Jazz. The Mirage is not the same size but we are in between and are going to compete there."
With Mitsubishi focusing more on green vehicles, owing to their Drive@Earth slogan, we couldn't help but ask if there were green upgrades in line for the Mirage.
To which Masuko replied, "Our plan is more for an electric vehicle, not a hybrid car. This size of the Mirage is perfect for making an electric vehicle is possible. No plans to mass produce high powered vehicle for racing."
Aside from bucking the trend when it comes to the market, Mitsubishi also chose to launch the vehicle in ASEAN first, as opposed to Europe and the US first.
"In the world, ASEAN countries are now energetic," Masuko explains. "Meaning that, there's momentum for growth. In the world, the ASEAN countries' economy are the best, I feel. Other countries' economies are slowing down. ASEAN's is still strong. So, we started to launch this car in ASEAN; first in Thailand, Brunei, Malaysia and now Philippines and Indonesia.
This strong preference for ASEAN is backed by some significant investment.
"We constructed a new factory in Thailand, so we can utilize the ASEAN import tax organization. We can import the Mirage without high import taxes from Thailand. This is a big benefit for us."
Of course, plans for the Mirage aren't limited to the region.
"After ASEAN countries, we're going to Europe, Australia and North America. We will sell the Mirage all over the world. This is our strategy."
We couldn't help but inquire how much was riding on this new Mirage. And while they hadn't answered directly, the optimism was certainly palpable.
"We sold around 1 million plus (globally) last year. This year, maybe more than 1 million. In 2015, our target is 1.5M sales in the world. In the Philippines, last year, we got a bit lower than 20% of market share, our target for this year is 20% and to exceed our all-time high record in 1996 of 36,500 units.
In spite of Mirage production now in full swing in Thailand, the question of manufacturing the vehicle still came up.
"There are no plans to produce the Mirage in the Philippines. Other models will be produced here. To build a new model, investment is needed. We can't say if that's this year or next year but within a few years. Modernizations of the Philippines will be critical to start investment. We're trying to find a vehicle with a big market size potential and also considering the Philippine government's incentive to the whole automotive industry. While closely watching the government, we are considering the timing of the investment and the introduction of new models.
Thankfully, the president was more than willing to give more concrete details about what automobile manufacturers expect from the country.
"The competitiveness and duties in the Philippines trails behind Indonesia and Thailand. Through the Philippine Automotive Competitiveness Council Inc. (PACCI), which consists of automotive parts manufacturers, the group submitted a roadmap for development to the Philippine government, to give support to the development of the industry. We're requesting the government to help the automotive industry have competitive power to produce vehicles.
In spite of the hesitation when it comes to manufacture, Masuko was still thankful for the country's support thus far.
"MMPC will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year. We are very grateful to the government and Philippine people for their support for us, allowing us to operate for 50 long years. That is a good milestone for another 50 years coming. Last year, we produced 14,000 units. This year, we target 15,000 units. The production operation continues to help employment. We consider that our responsibility."
With that, the press conference drew to a close as the MMC executives were quickly whisked into the exhibition hall for the launch of the new Mirage. Mitsubishi's new vehicle may not be produced locally, but the continued presence of local Mitsubishi vehicle assembly continues to provide a glimmer of hope for Filipinos.