North America CEO comments on the possibility of a midsize pickup and a new U.S. plant
Mitsubishi is in the middle of a comeback. With the help of new crossovers, the automaker has seen its North American sales increase more than 14 percent during the first 11 months of the year. Plus, it’s enjoying synergies from joining the Renault-Nissan alliance in 2016. It’s a time of optimism for the automaker that not too long ago was met with skepticism when it vowed to stay in the U.S. amid slow sales and a dearth of new products.
Recent news has put a shadow over the successful partnership. Carlos Ghosn, who spearheaded the alliance, was removed as chairman of Nissan and Mitsubishi over allegations of financial misconduct. Now, Mitsubishi Motors North America President and CEO Fred Diaz assures us Mitsubishi won’t falter. We chatted with him at the Los Angeles auto show last week.
Moving forward after Ghosn
Diaz said things are moving ahead with a “business as usual” attitude. Having worked at Nissan before joining Mitsubishi, he says he has seen the strength of the Alliance.
“I have full faith and one hundred percent confidence that, within the talent pool we have, we’re going to be just fine,” adding, “We’re very happy with the synergies that we’re getting, the cost savings that we’re getting because of that partnership.”
Mitsubishi was celebrating the North American debut of the e-Evolution concept in Los Angeles. The vehicle made its first appearance at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2017.
The sinewy crossover previews Mitsubishi’s future design direction. The crossover looks pretty eccentric, with a triangular face and sharply sloped roof. Under the sheetmetal, it’s all electric. One motor drives the front wheels and two motors in the rear are coupled by a torque vectoring Active Yaw Control system for improved handling.
“I’m excited about this not just being a concept vehicle but the true inspiration for where we’re going and what our cars are going to look like, and the technology that we’re going to have in our vehicles,” said Diaz.
In the future, every Mitsubishi will offer some form of electrification. Its plug-in hybrid technology is one of the strengths Mitsubishi brings to the alliance. The alliance has already announced it will adopt Mitsubishi’s new PHEV technology as as the common C/D-segment plug-in hybrid solution by 2022. Mitsubishi is not focused on hydrogen at this time.
Midsize pickup prospects
The last time we spoke with the folks at Mitsubishi, we learned a midsize pickup was being studied for the U.S. market. Mitsubishi continues to look into that possibility, but there’s nothing to announce at this point.
“[We’re] really just trying to understand the dynamics of the market, the competitors that are now coming back to the midsize truck segment and how and what we would need in order to be able to compete in that segment effectively,” Diaz said.
Utility vehicles are key
Mitsubishi will continue to focus on crossover utility vehicles in the U.S. It has the Outlander and Outlander Sport, the brand’s best-selling vehicles so far this year. The much-delayed Outlander PHEV and the Eclipse Cross are new arrivals that have boosted sales further.
The Lancer sedan has been discontinued. But it’s possible the nameplate could return in some form in the future. Diaz says there has been “a lot of discussion” on the Lancer name, and a revival is currently under study. Diaz also hesitated to speculate whether the Montero name could return, but said, “I will tell you that there are a lot of fans of the Montero that would love to see that vehicle come back into the fold.”
Ford and General Motors are among the automakers that have shed many traditional cars from their lineups. Although crossovers are dominating the market, the Mirage has seen its sales increase this year.
“I don’t think you can completely abandon sedans, so the success that we’re having with our Mirage and Mirage G4 doesn’t give us any reason to suggest that we need to get out of that space.”
Return to U.S. manufacturing?
Mitsubishi closed its sole production plant in the U.S. in 2016. But the automaker may return to U.S. manufacturing in the future under the right circumstances.
“It could happen,” Diaz said, adding he didn’t want to speculate on a possible timeline. “If we get to a point where we’re hitting at a clip on one or two of our crossover vehicles that come to market, as part of the Alliance at 100,000 [units] or above, then the business case for building a manufacturing plant or bringing a manufacturing plant to the United States becomes a realistic conversation.”
Taking care of customers
The Eclipse Cross is luring in a new group of better educated customers with higher incomes and high credit scores. Mitsubishi is also seeing a similar trend with the Outlander PHEV. Now, the challenge is to adjust dealerships to the change.
“If there was one challenge that I would say we have, it’s to do a better job of taking care of these customers who are more selective, and have higher expectations when they visit a dealership, from a facility standpoint, from a customer satisfaction standpoint, from how they’re treated in the sales process from the A-to-Z.”
“Our dealers are going through a metamorphosis right now, understanding that this is happening now,” Diaz added.
To address the issue, Mitsubishi hired a director of customer satisfaction for the first time just months ago. The director is launching strategies this year that will continue on indefinitely. Dealers are already investing in the way the showrooms look and feel, Diaz says, and these updates will continue over the next several years.
“We’re still here”
Mitsubishi spent more on marketing this year than it has in over 11 years. It’s part of a much-needed push to increase brand awareness.
“First and foremost, that’s the first thing we need to make people aware of is that ‘Hey, we’re still here,’” Diaz said. “We’ve been kind of quiet and small for a while, but we’re back on the rebound.”
On that note, Mitsubishi will serve as the title sponsor for the Las Vegas Bowl over the next two years. This year’s college football postseason game, now known as the Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl, will take place December 15. Mitsubishi will parlay this year’s event into a national dealer meeting, where dealers from across the nation will meet and have the opportunity to see future products, and enjoy a football game.