Mitsubishi President Outlines Future Product Plans, Strategy for a U.S. Comeback

By Trevor Dorchies | November 12, 2012
Mitsubishi had a rough year in the American automotive market, but it wasn't for lack of trying. After dropping four major vehicles from its lineup (the Eclipse coupe, Eclipse Spyder, Galant sedan, and the Endeavour crossover), Mitsubishi watched its sales in the United States take a nosedive to the tune of 29 percent. The Japanese automaker's market share all but dried up and is currently at 0.4 percent, down from 0.7 percent in 2011. It currently shares the title with Fiat for the most unsold inventory with a 133-day stock as of October 1. The all-new Mitsubishi i-MiEV all-electric vehicle is widely considered to be a bust as well. Mitsubishi's recent struggles stateside come as little surprise for those following the automotive industry closely. However, Mitsubishi President Osamu Masuko is working to rebuild the Japanese automaker, and has plans to boost sales by 45 percent in the next fiscal year. If everything goes according to Masuko's plan, Mitsubishi will move 80,000 units by the middle of next year. That's up from 55,000 units that were originally projected to sell by March 31 of 2013. Masuko has also appointed a new boss for North America and expects to move 100,000 in just under two years. In order to meet these lofty goals, Masuko and Co. plan on adding two new vehicles into Mitsubishi's lineup by next year and a third one in 2014. If there was any doubt before this, Masuko made it very clear to Automotive News that Mitsubishi will not follow in the footsteps of fellow Japanese automaker Suzuki and abandon the U.S. automotive market. "We have no intention whatsoever of withdrawing from the U.S. market," Masuko told Automotive News. "The U.S. market is a very important market." If Masuko and Mitsubishi wish to make a comeback in the U.S., it first needs to restock its desolate portfolio. Currently, Mitsubishi offers the Lancer, Lancer Sportback, Lancer Evolution, Outlander and Outlander Sport, and the trifling i-MiEV. Technically, that's only three models with a few different configurations; not enough to make a footprint in the North American sales market. That's why Mitsubishi plans on importing the Mirage compact car from Thailand in September of next year. The next Mirage is expected to also come in a plug-in hybrid form, but the U.S. market isn't expected to see it. The all-new Outlander will also help boost Mitsu's sales while a plug-in hybrid version will be available in January of 2014. Through the first 10 months of 2012, Mitsubishi managed to only move 50,103 vehicles; dismal when compared to other leading automakers but almost impressive when considering that's only from three vehicles. Upon its introduction into the U.S. market, Mitsu' planned to move 20,000 i-MiEV units a year. Only 469 units have been sold through the first 10 months of 2012. Since the i-MiEV never really caught on stateside like Mitsubishi expected it to, the Japanese automaker plans to head in another direction with its hybrid technology. Moving forward, Mitsu will begin focusing more on plug-in hybrids, and less on all-electric vehicles. What say you? Can Mitsubishi save itself? Tell us what you think in the comment section below. Source: Automotive News (subscription required)

When I read a comment like "the i-MiEV never really caught on stateside like Mitsubishi expected it to," I just have to scratch my head. I have been researching EVs for a few years and got very enthusiastic about the configuration and pricing of the i-MiEV as its launch date approached. I put in a pre-order for one in April, finally taking delivery in September - and yes, that took over 5 months. During that time, I saw no U.S. advertising for the i-MiEV on television or in print, the only serious promotional effort I did see being Mitsubishi Canada's clever "Electriphobia" site. All I can say is that it's hard to figure how thousands of customers could be "expected" to buy a car that Mitsubishi seemed very reluctant to either sell or deliver. I can only imagine how many sales were lost to Nissan while they dragged their feet on the i-MiEV's "soft launch." I've read analysis suggesting that Mitsu was not expecting Nissan's Leaf to be priced in the U.S. as low as it was, and they had to slash the planned price for the i-MiEV accordingly, realizing it would need a lot more than a $2k price advantage to compete, even if it meant losing money on every sale. I think that when early reviewers started claiming that the price was still too high for what was on offer, Mitsubishi panicked and lost their nerve, cancelling any planned advertising campaign for their "doomed" little EV. There have been rumors, reinforced by this article's observation that "Mitsu will begin focusing more on plug-in hybrids, and less on all-electric vehicles," that there will be no "i-MiEV 2.0" or anything similar, making the i-MiEV a passing blip. If that turns out to be the case, I hope I'll be able to get any needed parts to keep my i-MiEV on the road, but I'm otherwise quite glad that I was able to get hold of one before they disappeared. And I would be very interested in reading a post-mortem of what happened to this project - basically, why did Mitsubishi apparently surrender without firing a shot?