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Mitsubishi Is Quietly Becoming a Crossover Brand

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author photo by Eric Brandt February 2018

When you think of Mitsubishi, you most likely think of cars like the exciting Lancer Evo, the laughably cheap Mirage or the performance cars of the past like the Eclipse and the 3000GT. And maybe, just maybe, you think about the Outlander crossover -- if you can manage to remember that it exists.

But a major transformation is happening at Mitsubishi. The scrappy little Japanese brand is quietly becoming a crossover builder. That's right: a brand once known for fun little sports cars is getting in on the crossover craze -- and whether we like it or not, it's working out really well for them.

2017 was an okay-but-not-great year for car sales. A lot of luxury brands posted record sales, but mainstream brands struggled. Mitsubishi, however, was the fastest growing non-luxury car brand of 2017 in the U.S. -- and it's all because of the Outlander, whose sales were up a whopping 32.9 percent over 2016. Your aunt probably bought one last year and you didn't even notice. Overall, the brand saw 7.7 percent growth in a year when overall car sales were down 1.8 percent.

Go ahead and check Mitsubishi's website. When you click on "Vehicles," not only do crossovers come up before cars, but the only actual cars in the 2018 Mitsubishi lineup are limited the Mirage and the Mirage G4 -- which barely counts as a second car because it's just a Mirage sedan. The Outlander and Outlander Sport might not be anything exciting, but they're saving the Mitsubishi brand, at least in the U.S.

But that's not all for Mitsubishi crossovers. Mitsubishi also has the Outlander PHEV, which, somehow, is one of only two non-luxury plug-in hybrid crossovers on the market, the other one being the Kia Niro PHEV. The Outlander PHEV is a hit in Europe, where it recently hit 100,000 sales. That was enough to convince the brand to bring the hybrid crossover to the States.

What about future Mitsubishi models? Isn't there a Lancer replacement in the works? Not that Mitsubishi has announced, or even hinted at publicly. The only new model currently planned for production is the Eclipse Cross, which is coming out later this year. I apologize for reminding you, but the Eclipse name is, indeed, returning to the Mitsubishi lineup -- not as a sporty coupe, but as ... a crossover. I hate to admit it, but the Eclipse Cross does look kind of cool, as far as crossovers go. Eclipse Cross GSX, anyone?

Mitsubishi was in a tough spot where it needed to really boost its North American presence or pull out of this lucrative market altogether. It bet it all on crossovers, and it's winning (and getting bought out by Nissan didn't hurt, either). At this point, why would Mitsubishi make any new models other than crossovers? I think in the next few years we'll see a few automakers exclusively become crossover brands as sedans die off -- and I believe Mitsubishi will be one of them.

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Used 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL
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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Mitsubishi Is Quietly Becoming a Crossover Brand - Autotrader