Is Mitsubishi Motors too small to survive?
Having started selling cars on its own into this country only seven years ago, Mitsubishi Motors is one of the newest car brands in Canada. But recent changes in the automaker’s product plans, frankly, don’t give much optimism for Mitsu’s future. In North America, Mitsubishi has, let's say, some challenges. The biggest very well may be the huge brand shift away from its longstanding performance car image to feel good electric vehicles, a risky move for an automaker with limited resources and partnerships.
As you may already know, Mitsubishi said its looking at a "different direction" for its all-wheel-drive sport sedan Lancer Evolution X halo car, a car that has defined the brand with multiple WRC rally championships and delivered Mitsubishi a bunch of exposure in the Fast and Furious movie franchise. But as the automaker moves towards the launch of eight electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles worldwide by 2015, it can only say, "[Evo's] successor, regulations and market feedback will dictate its engineering package and architecture".
So while Mitsubishi walks away from performance cars (i.e. “younger” buyers) and pegs it future on EVs (a yet-unnamed North American version of its iMiEV micro electric car I drive a couple of years ago will more than likely only ever sell in small numbers to affluent—ie “older”—suburbanite greenies), its current lineup is looking rather thin.
So far this year in Canada, Mitsubishi has sold 2,971 vehicles. That’s up 12.3 per cnet in a virtually flat market, but well behind the 3,518 rival Subaru has moved. And unlike Subaru with its Legacy and Outback, Mitsu doesn’t have any competitive midsize offerings, relying on the U.S.-designed platform that supports the Galant sedan, Endeavor SUV and Eclipse sports cars—vehicles that since their introduction way back in 2004, have been some of the worst selling cars in their respective segments, and won’t be replaced when they are slowly phased out of their U.S. factory over the next few years.
So that leaves Mitsubishi with basically a bunch of compact cars to sell on a platform that Mercedes-Benz helped fund when it owned a big chunk of the Japanese automaker: the Lancer sedan and hatchback, and Outlander and RVR crossovers.
Yes, there’s a long anticipated subcompact on the way, hinted at last week at the Geneva auto show by its Global Small Car Concept, seen above. But it doesn’t arrive until 2013, and unlike the previous Colt, the GSCC suggests distinctive styling won’t be part of Mitsubishi’s future DNA—the Geneva concept is essentially a design rip-off of the current Ford Fiesta.
So, a massive shift in brand identity, leaving nothing bigger than small cars to sell. With fun-to-drive image building performance cars replaced by expensive-to-buy EVs and hybrids. And generic styling.
Does this sound like a recipe for success?
Or is Mitsubishi simply too small to survive?