Although the usual five-year Japanese model lifecycle has been used for the past three generations of Mitsubishi Lancer – the 1992 CC, 1997 CE, and 2002 CG – the current CJ series will need to serve a seven-year tenure after economic conditions forced new model development off track.
“There’s a whole lot of reasons why [Lancer is delayed]. The GFC, that’s part of it. You’ve got to prioritise where you put your [development] money. So from our point of view, we probably prioritised more towards profitable SUVs.”
Tol did, however, confirm that a new Lancer is on the cards for “sometime” in 2014 and that Australia “won’t be lagging behind other markets” when it comes to an arrival date on our shores.
A hybrid Lancer is also a certainty, according to Mitsubishi senior executive of sales Juyu Jeon, with a plug-in electric vehicle likely only if business case stacks up.
"Plug-in hybrid will be the best solution," said Jeon-san. "It might be modified plug-in hybrid. Might be [normal] hybrid. We don’t have the answer at this stage. [But] there will be one.”
Meanwhile Outlander project development manager Mitsuyoshi Hattori confirmed that Mitsubishi is preparing a Lancer concept car that will likely debut at the Tokyo motor show in late 2013.
“We are studying about a new Lancer concept,” said Hattori-san.
The development chief refused to comment on the next-generation Lancer Evolution, but did point to the use of an all-electric racer at the Pikes Peak Hillclimb as an example of how electric power can be a valid replacement for turbocharging. Hattori-san also exaplained that while it is “unlikely” the car will be a conventional all-wheel-drive turbo model, there are challenges with accommodating both environmental legislation and incorporating technology affordably.
“[We’re looking at] not only the power and acceleration, but the environment.
“[Electric motor is] certainly one of the options. But if the performance of the vehicle is not meeting the expectations, then what is the point of making the car?”
Australian sales of the current Lancer have dropped significantly over the past two years. In 2010, the small sedan averaged 2000 sales per month; this year to November it has averaged 1300 units. Tol concedes that the car is the oldest contender in its segment, already tallying a five-year vintage, but hopes a renewed product strategy will keep sales steady over the next 12 to 18 months.
“What we’re trying to do with the Lancer, knowing where it is in its product life, is instead of chasing volume, we’re trying to chase a better sales mix.
“We’ve launched a new LX, and at $23,990 you’ve got a vehicle with leather seats and power seat. So instead of fighting everyone with the dirty $19,990 thing, we’re trying to sell a better mix of cars.
“For not a lot of outlay you get a lot more premium features.”