We’re their eighth-largest market in the world, but there’s a good chance that Mitsubishi Motors will be taking a disproportionately close look at Canada in the very near future. And if the company’s revitalization efforts go to plan, Canadians may soon be eyeing them right back.
Those who know that Mitsubishi is one of the smaller automakers operating in our country may have their doubts. The automaker accounts for just over 1 percent of the cars sold here over the past few years and throughout that time has battled lackluster reviews along with a diminishing product line-up as models like the Lancer sedan and i-MiEV all-electric car have become discontinued.
A few key things are changing, though, that just might bring the turnaround Mitsubishi has been hoping for.
First and foremost is the fact that Nissan bought a controlling stake in Mitsubishi in October of last year, which resulted in the latter company being brought under the umbrella of what’s now known as the Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi Alliance. This created not only an influx of capital but also of technology and talent: several high-profile Nissan executives have been transferred into Mitsubishi headquarters over the past few months and are already making noticeable gains in giving focus and direction across most arms of the business. And plans are already afoot to share platforms and knowledge: for example, Mitsubishi Chief Operating Officer Trevor Mann, one of the company’s key Nissan transplants, revealed at the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show that that the next Outlander, due in 2020, could be based on the same platform as the highly successful Nissan Rogue.
What’s more important, though, is the unambiguous delineation that this is an alliance, not a takeover. Mitsubishi representatives are stating at every opportunity that the design, research and development, and market strategy departments of all three companies will remain completely independent. This latitude, coupled with its newfound financial security and its relatively small size, gives Mitsubishi the ability to adapt and redefine itself quickly and nimbly.
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Where does Canada come in? It’s through our own car-buying preferences, which already happen to line up perfectly with where Mitsubishi is placing its focus going forward. There are three strengths that the company has identified as being key stepping stones to its progress, and every one of them has the potential to resonate with Canadian consumers.
The first is its product lineup, which has trended heavily toward SUVs in recent years as lower-volume models have been discontinued. Rather than try to bring back an extended car line-up, Chief Planning Officer Mitsuhiko Yamashita said in Tokyo that the company is planning to follow on its reputation for being a strong SUV brand and focus on that aspect of its offerings. Here in Canada, we provide a perfect example of where global market trends are headed: we’re already buying more SUVs than cars, and Mitsubishi’s ability to quickly hone in on that trend with the products it already has, plus the new ones on the way, could put them in an ideal position.
The second focus is on the company’s capabilities in key systems such as all-wheel drive. Mitsubishi calls its most sophisticated version super all-wheel control, and its ability to not only distribute power between the front and rear axles but also to use torque vectoring to manage the torque split between the front wheels makes it a stout performer. In Canada, this gives Mitsubishi another potential edge: the sales figures on all-wheel drive systems here, particularly in SUVs, are higher than average, and consumer education programs on the merits of their system could go a long way in increasing brand awareness.
The final part of the mix is EVs. While little has been formally revealed about the company’s plans for an electrified future, the e-Evolution concept on display in Tokyo hints at where Mitsubishi sees its EV design and capability going in the years ahead. A plug-in hybrid version of the Outlander SUV will be available in our market very shortly, a new fully electric small SUV is scheduled to be launched by 2020, and the company plans to make at least one electric powertrain available for every vehicle in its lineup, which will include mixes of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and all-electric variants. So long as EV incentives remain robust in the most heavily populated provinces – and there’s no indication that they shouldn’t, at least for the time being – Canadians have tended to be early adopters of these technologies, which could makes us a good litmus test for how well these products will do in larger and more hesitant markets.
Ultimately, though, not one bit of this matters if Mitsubishi isn’t able to deliver on improving on the baseline quality of its products, and that’s the one quantity that remains a complete unknown until Alliance-driven models begin appearing in dealerships. The first hints of this will come with the release of the Eclipse Cross early next year, and between the growing importance of the compact SUV market and the fact that it’s the first model to bring with it early influences of the company’s rejuvenated leadership, this will be the most important launch that Mitsubishi Motors Canada has dealt with in many years.
With first drives of the Eclipse Cross set to take place shortly, this final part of the picture will come into focus before the end of the year. Stay tuned.