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Is It Time to Take Mitsubishi Seriously Again?

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author photo by Brian Moody July 2018

Thanks to a powerful Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, it might be time for Americans to start taking Mitsubishi more seriously. There was a time when consumers in the U.S. and abroad did take Mitsubishi seriously thanks to vehicles like the Eclipse, Montero/Pajero, Montero Sport, Mighty Max, Lancer and Lancer EVO and several others. I even liked the Mitsubishi Endeavor. That time has passed.

The reason is that most of those vehicles are now either discontinued or hidden from view in the United States. Therefore, many Americans think of Mitsubishi as all but finished here. And with essentially five models for sale (six if you count the plug-in Outlander as a separate model), it's easy to see why.

International Admiration

Still, buyers in other parts of the world see Mitsubishi in a much different light than American consumers. In Australia alone, Mitsubishi has nine different models. Malcolm Flynn, editor of CarsGuide in Australia, says:

"Mitsubishi is currently the fourth best-selling brand in Australia, despite having one of the oldest ranges in the market. The Triton pickup was the third best-selling vehicle in the country in June. ASX is actually the top-selling compact SUV in a segment where you'd think fresh design would be everything! I put this down to a solid reputation for reliability, competitive pricing, a better than average 5-year warranty and strong marketing. There's also bound to be some residual patriotism given Mitsubishi produced vehicles in Australia from 1980 to 2008."

In addition to the new Eclipse Cross and Outlander, other parts of the world still get the sturdy Montero/Pajero, electric iMiEV and Lancer sedan as well as the Triton pickup. Remember the Mitsubishi Mighty Max? The Triton is what we'd have if that truck continued in the United States. Globally, Mitsubishi has two electric vehicles, a pickup and several SUVs, including a full-size, a midsize and a compact SUV.

Those vehicles have earned respect, too. The influential European publication, CleanTechnica, says the Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in hybrid is "still the U.K.'s best-selling plug-in" and went on to call it "nearly perfect." Globally, The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance has sold about 600,000 electric vehicles, like the Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe and Outlander Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV).

That alliance is responsible for one in every nine new vehicles sold globally -- that's a very powerful team to be part of. By pooling their collective resources, Alliance brands can work together to develop technology, share platforms and share distribution expenses. Some of this is already happening. In Australia, there's a new Alliance distribution center that serves Infiniti, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Renault. Other Alliance brands include Datsun, Dacia and Lada.

Kent O'Hara, global senior vice president of aftersales for the Alliance said:

"This shared facility is another example of how the Alliance continues to generate synergies to the benefit of our companies, customers and shareholders at a global level.

And Mitsubishi knows this is good for them, saying:

"With the technical backing of the largest automotive Alliance in the world, Mitsubishi will be able to introduce a broad array of the latest technologies in the new models to come, from smart car connectivity to autonomous driving, electrification and more. As a result of the Alliance, Mitsubishi Motors is well-positioned to deliver improved profitability, more appealing products and next-generation technologies for our consumers."

Power of Partnerships

Here's a real-world translation: Mitsubishi is about to have cars and trucks that are much better. For example, there's all that self-driving, autonomous tech Nissan has been showing off for years -- everything from Pro Pilot Assist to a fully self-driving car they demonstrated in Tokyo. Mitsubishi will likely benefit from that. The end result will be better cars in the U.S. for brands like Nissan and Mitsubishi. That technology will also benefit Renault and Infiniti vehicles.

Nissan and The Alliance are banking on plenty of EV success as well. Philippe Brunet, Alliance Senior Vice President, Powertrain and EV Engineering says:

"As the pioneer and global leader in zero-emission electric vehicles, the objective remains to be the number one provider of mainstream mass-market and affordable EVs around the world, and LEAF plays an important part in that role with more than 330,000 units sold worldwide."

If we're dealing with just what's true today in 2018/2019, there are a few things worth noting in the Mitsubishi world. First, the Outlander PHEV is the best-selling plug-in hybrid in the United Kingdom. Mitsubishi Motors North America sales are up 46 percent for June 2018 -- their best month since 2007 -- and 25 Mitsubishi dealerships will get an updated look by the spring of 2019 with the remaining stores to follow in the coming years. Mitsubishi hasn't had an updated look for their dealerships in more than 15 years.

When you add other Alliance brands, there's a bit of symmetry to the offerings. Often, one brand has something the other doesn't have, or has less of it. But in the past, Carlos Gohsn, CEO of the Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi Alliance, has insisted each brand has its own strategic vision. In January of this year, Reuters quoted Gohsn as saying:

"The idea is to avoid having one person managing the three partner companies' operations and the overall alliance's strategy at the same time… In the past, we had to do that to create the alliance, but I don't think it's something that can last."

The patchwork of vehicles offered by all Alliance brands do fit together in a kind of complementary fashion.

For example, Nissan has a full-size pickup and truck-based SUV, and the other brands don't. Renault has a wide variety of light-duty commercial trucks, while Nissan has just a few variations of two vans and one pickup. Renault has about 10 cars like the Clio and Talisman, Nissan has six different cars like the Altima and Maxima and Mitsubishi has just two compact cars in the U.S. -- the others are SUVs. Plus, all three brands and their sub-brands have a ton of midsize and compact crossovers and SUVs, exactly the kind of thing buyers around the world seem to want.

Forward-Looking

Additionally, there are already rumors that the next Mitsubishi Triton will share some of its basic architecture with the Nissan Navara, a pickup not offered in the United States. Plus, Mitsubishi's prominence in Southeast Asia could help Nissan in the long-run.

Also, future Alliance plans involve more sharing, including:

  1. Share four vehicle platforms
  2. Increase powertrain sharing
  3. Develop 12 all-electric vehicles
  4. 40 vehicles with self-driving technology
  5. Autonomous ride-hailing service

Personally, I was hoping this Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance might lead to Americans (like me) being able to buy a Renault. If there's a way I can park a Talisman Estate in my garage, I'm going to find it. I admit, it seems unlikely.

What does seem likely is that Mitsubishi will slowly begin to have a more prominent place in the American (and global) automotive landscape thanks to the collective power of Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi.

CarsGuide.com.au is owned by Cox Automotive which is also the parent comapany of Autotrader.

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Is It Time to Take Mitsubishi Seriously Again? - Autotrader