Mitsubishi has been struggling in North America for more than a decade.
Despite its continued hardship, surrender is simply not an option. According to Don Swearingen, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Mitsubishi Motors North America, pulling out of the market like, say, Isuzu or Suzuki “was never something we considered,” not even during the darkest days of the Great Recession of 2008.
“We had to get very lean, don’t get me wrong,” Swearingen explained, and the brand’s outdated lineup attests to a long-term lack of investment dollars. Things are different today, however, even if it doesn’t look like it from the outside.
Swearingen said fleet sales are capped at just 10 percent of overall volume, the company is focused on profitability by not offering vehicles in the U.S. it can’t make money on, and it is on track to deliver 100,000 units in its latest fiscal year, which ends in March. For all of 2016, it sold more than 96,000 vehicles in the U.S.
More importantly than all of this, two years ago, Mitsubishi’s North American arm started making money once again. Ditto for its 360 U.S. dealerships, which are raking in the highest profits they have since 2002.
Going forward, Swearingen said crossovers will be the segment Mitsubishi focuses on, as drivers just can’t get enough car-based utility vehicles. Today, 65 percent of Mitsubishi’s U.S. sales are CUVs, with its Outlander Sport leading the charge.
Curiously, cars will not play a major role in the ongoing renaissance. Swearingen said the recently departed Lancer Evolution is a great halo product for the brand but “from a business-case perspective, the volume just isn’t there.” In simple terms, don’t expect an all-new model anytime soon.
A family sedan isn’t on the table, either. “The D-segment is too competitive,” noted Swearingen. “I have no interest.” Mitsubishi’s limited investment dollars will be pooled in the crossover segment where they can make the greatest impact.
But this doesn’t mean it won’t offer a smaller four-door model in the coming years. Swearingen said a new compact car (C-segment) is the second most-requested product by Mitsubishi dealerships, with a pickup truck topping their wish lists.
The company’s new partnership with Nissan could help speed the development of fresh products and it should also trim costs.
Among many other partnerships, Swearingen said Mitsubishi will share common parts with Nissan going forward, but only components that consumers don’t see. The brands will remain competitors in the market and their vehicles will have unique styling.
Mitsubishi has not participated in the Detroit Auto Show for eight years and that’s not going to change in 2017. However, it will be attending other major shows on the global circuit including Chicago, New York, and, curiously, Geneva.
Continuing on its crossover push, Alex Fedorak, manager of Mitsubishi Motors North America public relations, said an all-new small CUV will debut at the Switzerland show. It will be larger than the current Outlander Sport and feature a 1.5-liter turbocharged engine. It’s expected to go on sale in about a year, wearing styling inspired by the XR-PHEV concept.
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