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The replacement for the ageing Mitsubishi Pajero will most likely be a joint project with the Nissan Patrol, as the alliance between the two Japanese brands seeks to find a technical solution to the environmental requirements on the development of large off-road capable vehicles.

The current and fourth-generation Pajero, which has been around since 2006, is still being sold globally, due to the ongoing challenge of its replacement meeting much stricter emission requirements than ever before.

Nevertheless, Mitsubishi’s new chief operating officer, Trevor Mann, believes the model is part of Mitsubishi’s core DNA and will continue to live.

Speaking to the media at the 2017 Geneva motor show, Mann said the challenge for the Pajero is shared with the Nissan Patrol, and it will likely be solved together with Nissan for the next generation of both vehicles.

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“[Pajero is a] brand icon for Mitsubishi and it’s something that really, it’s… the head-and-heart discussion is consistent, how to make this work is something that we are working on, because that segment is coming increasingly under pressure in terms of CO2 compliance and big heavy vehicles,” Mann said.

The Pajero runs a 3.2-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine, which has pretty high consumption for a diesel (9.1 litres per 100 kilometres, and emissions of 240 grams/km), while the Patrol runs a 5.6-litre petrol V8, with fuel use at 14.4L/100km and emissions of 334g/km. The same drivetrain is also used in the Infiniti QX80.

“You know the other vehicles that are also in the segment are coming increasingly under pressure from a sustainability point of view. Obviously one of the things we need to look at, is, what is the benefit we can have to stay in the product if we had to work with Nissan?

“They don’t have to be the [exact] same vehicles but they are obviously in similar segments. They’ve lived side-by-side for many years anyway, so is there an opportunity there? It’s something we will be exploring.”

The problem, Mann says, is the heavy weight of these large off-road SUVs and their high-torque requirements means that an old-fashioned turbo diesel or large capacity petrol engine is a necessity – but it’s also an option that will not meet today’s emission requirements, so the only other solution is to reduce weight and electrify.

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“As those [types of] vehicles are extremely heavy, you have to light-weight them rather substantially. You have to have very efficient powertrains, maybe plug-in could make those vehicles work.”

Will that mean the next-generation Mitsubishi Pajero will have some form of electrification?

“Pure electric, to some extent [will work], yes, high torque helps, an electric motor can be the only sustainable replacement for the current big diesel or petrol engines, because you’re not going to get the torque from a 1.5-litre turbocharged engine. It has got to be that way.”

However, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have an off-road capable vehicle that is powered entirely by electricity, given the charging limitations.

“That’s where plug-in comes in.” Mann says, suggesting that when the fifth-generation Mitsubishi Pajero makes its debut, it will at the very least sport a plug-in hybrid drivetrain.

As for how far away the model is, that remains a mystery. With the Renault-Nissan and Mitsubishi alliance only formalised towards the end of last year, any project to replace the Pajero could still be many years away, but at the very least, it’s now a matter of when, not if.

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