Although Mitsubishi has struggled mightily here in the U.S., totaling just over 22,000 vehicle sales through November 2013, President Osamu Masuko has no plans to jump ship. In fact, as part of a major restructuring plan, Masuko told Automotive News he hopes to boost North American sales more than 33 percent, to 150,000 annual units by 2017.
Mitsubishi has fallen hard since its 2002 peak sales of over 345,000 vehicles, when the Japanese automaker was known and celebrated for sporty models like the Eclipse and Lancer Evolution. In an interview with Automotive News, Masuko explained that those days are firmly behind the company, which will instead focus on more mass-market SUVs and crossovers.
“When you look at the global ranking of top-selling Mitsubishi vehicles, at the top are pickups, then the Pajero and Pajero Sport and then the Outlander and Outlander Sport. We want to further enhance our strong suits. That will better secure the future of our brand. This is a simple strategy of back to basics,” said Masuko. “We have produced sports cars in the past. But we have to prioritize.”
A major part of Mitsubishi’s expansion plan is to introduce plug-in hybrid powertrains into its SUVs and crossovers. Mitsubishi recently showed two plug-in hybrid concepts at the 2013 Tokyo auto show, the full-size GC-PHEV concept SUV and the compact crossover XR-PHEV concept, which preview future Mitsubushi Pajero (formerly badged as the Montero in the U.S.) and Outlander Sport models, respectively.
Masuko sees a big future for plug-in hybrids in the U.S. market, and is already ramping up battery production to twice that of the current 30,000 units, to a total of around 60,000.
An all-electric Mitsubishi minicar is also a distinct possibility, which as we previously reported, would be co-developed with Nissan-Renault and would follow the existing i-MiEV. As an extension of the NMKV minicar project that has already birthed the Japanese-market Nissan Dayz and Mitsubishi eK wagon, Masuko told AN that the company is considering using EV technology in a larger vehicle that would be developed with Nissan-Renault.
The two automakers are also beginning to discuss a future mid-size D-segment sedan for the U.S. market, which Masuko confirmed would likely share a platform with the Renault Latitude (the Renault-Samsung SM5 in Japan).
“The D segment is not that big of a segment for us, so I think rebadging is OK,” said Masuko. “The level of complexity increases a lot with the C-segment. If it doesn't work, we may have to do it alone.”
With no immediate plans for a successor to the Lancer sedan in the U.S. market, it seems that Masuko is certainly moving forward with plans to focus on larger SUVs and crossovers. Hoping that this strategy is the secret sauce to boosting North American sales numbers, Mitsubishi has no plans to pull out of the U.S., committing to the market and the company’s Normal, Illinois plant.
“We are making full use of [our plant's] capacity. We have a full turnaround in the United States,” said Masuko. “There is no way we are going to withdraw from the U.S. market.”