With Carlos Ghosn out as Nissan’s chief executive, Hiroto Saikawa has some well broken-in shoes to fill as the brand’s new CEO.
Only ten days into the job, Saikawa says he doesn’t want to stray too far from groundwork laid by his predecessor. However, both men face an interesting problem in deciding what should be done with Mitsubishi.
Ghosn loves a fixer-upper and has already decided to dedicate much of his time to bringing Mitsubishi back from the brink, now that it’s part of the Renault–Nissan Alliance. He managed to help Nissan out of its decade-long slump in the early 2000s, so perhaps he can do the same for Mitsubishi now. However, according to Saikawa, that’s going to involve carefully assimilating the struggling automaker into the greater alliance.
That could mean taking Mitsubishi by the hand and offering it European models wearing the three-diamond emblem.
Boosting Mitsubishi’s presence is an essential part of Nissan’s plan. While it is the master of producing affordable, utilitarian, and petite vehicles in Asia, it has lost a lot of its clout in the North America. Mitsubishi sold 345,111 units in the United States during 2002 but only managed 96,267 deliveries in 2016. While that’s an improvement over recent years, it’s also nothing to brag about. Fortunately, the company hasn’t taken the same sort of beating globally.
“They are now a 1 million [unit] company,” Saikawa told Automotive News, referring to Mitsubishi’s global sales. “Easily they can grow to 1.5 million, hopefully, 2 million. Having a partner [that is] a 2 million company is much better than having [one that is] a 1 million company … My first wish is that they should start growing, rapidly, and they should regain ground in the U.S. as soon as possible.”
When that sales growth occurs, odds are good that it will take place at joint dealerships. Saikawa claims that Nissan will likely take on Mitsubishi franchises whenever convenient, but what models will occupy those lots has yet to be decided.
We already know that Nissan has Mitsubishi in a production holding pattern as it attempts to figure out ways to share platforms among future models. The automaker already has an R&D team designated specifically for this task. However, Saikawa says that Nissan won’t simply hand over its current lineup.
It might allow Renault to do so, though.
Since the French automaker has no presence in America, it could theoretically rebrand a Renault Megane, Scenic, or Twingo as a Mitsubishi without any product overlap between the two Japanese brands.
Saikawa seems interested in focusing on the crossover fad by making use of Mitsubishi’s history as a builder of practical all-wheel-drive vehicles. He even likened the brand to Subaru — which is currently killing it in the North American market. Before the takeover, Mitsubishi was desperately trying to broaden its own crossover and utility lineup.
Regardless of how the alliance plans to position Mitsubishi, Saikawa is keeping the faith. “I believe they have a very strong future in the U.S. market,” he said.
A version of this story originally appeared on The Truth About Cars
Discuss this story on our Mitsubishi Forum