Mitsubishi Motors has been in decline for years, but they seem to be making one bad decision after another.
First, they ditched the Lancer Evolution, their “halo car” and one of the most beloved affordable performance cars ever made. Then they ditched the Pajero, their incredible 4×4 Dakar Rally conqueror. Now Mitsubishi Australia is ditching its passenger car range altogether in what looks like another baffling move from a brand that’s on the ropes.
“We think passenger cars are a thing of the past,” said Mitsubishi Motors Australia boss Shaun Westcott. Cars Guide earlier this week as the big brand announced there would be no successor to the Lancer sedan or Mirage sedan (currently Australia’s cheapest new car) offered Down Under. Instead, Mitsubishi will focus on SUVs.
Westcott suggested the Lancer nameplate might return – but most likely on an SUV, like how they slapped the Eclipse name on the Eclipse Cross or the Pajero name on the Pajero Sport.
“The Lancer is a valuable nameplate, we will keep the Lancer, but we are unlikely to see any passenger cars in the future…
“I just think they’re dead, and it’s not just Mitsubishi… Just look at the market, look at the trends, the world has moved past that.”
But is Westcott right? Are passenger cars really dead or is Mistubishi Australia wrong? Is it just pirouette, justifying sales in difficulty and average products?
While Mitsubishi continues to produce some really decent vehicles such as the Triton ute (which is one of the best available in Australia right now) and the Outlander PHEV, there is a broad consumer perception that the brand’s offerings in the West are a bit boring and unrefined. .
There’s no denying that the big thing in cars over the past two decades has been SUVs (and in Australia, double-cab utility vehicles) – and demand for these types of vehicles remains incredibly strong – but as technology electric vehicles are becoming more mainstream, there’s a good chance we’ll see a return to hatchbacks and sedans.
The “skateboard” battery structure of purpose-built electric vehicles tends to suit sedans and hatchbacks better than high-driving SUVs. Indeed, one only has to look at some of the best electric cars in Australia and around the world to see that it is electric vehicles that resonate with consumers: the Nissan Leaf, the Tesla Model 3, Hyundai’s Ioniq models…
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It’s also a bizarre thing for Westcott to say then that many of Mitsubishi’s best-selling cars worldwide are indeed small passenger vehicles, like the eK kei car – but that’s a whole other story…
Mitsubishi’s decision to abandon the performance/enthusiast market is also a shame and could be to blame. some of their sales issues. Sure, most car brands don’t tend to make a lot of money selling these kinds of cars, but the halo effect means a lot… And there’s always a lot of demand for fast touring cars .
Think about it: why do other affordable Japanese brands like Nissan, Toyota and Subaru, Mitsubishi’s rally rival, continue to invest in new enthusiast vehicles?
And that’s just a fact: SUVs are a lower starting point for performance models than traditional passenger cars, so if that’s all you have, you’ll suffer. As Sale of carsEditor Mike Sinclair told DMARGE: “SUVs aren’t as capable by nature…In the end, a lighter, lower hatchback will always outperform a more capable SUV.”
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To some extent, it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. Either invest big bucks in enthusiast vehicles (which are expensive to develop) for dodgy returns, or stop making them and your brand image suffers.
We guess you could make the same argument for passenger cars as well, although at least SUVs, crossovers, SUVs and utility vehicles continue to sell very well.
Mitsubishi isn’t the only car brand trying to ditch passenger cars in favor of an SUV-only or Down Under-dominated range. Ford Australia, for example, only offers performance variants of the Fiesta and Focus, both of which are in danger of being phased out here – leaving only the Mustang, which isn’t really a passenger car, as the only traditional car in their range.
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Our opinion ? SUVs and crossovers will continue to dominate Australian roads for at least another decade, but as electric vehicles become more mainstream, we could see traditional passenger cars like hatchbacks and hatchbacks make a comeback.
Plus, as our cities get more congested and fuel gets more expensive, we might see punters ditching their big, bulky SUVs for smaller, more fuel-efficient passenger cars… Watch this space, we say.
While we’re here reminiscing about the glory days of Mitsubishi… Watch our 60-second story of the Mitsubishi Pajero below.