Mitsubishi Motors looks set to rejoin the passenger car segment with fresh new models as a result of the takeover by the Renault-Nissan Alliance.
The benefits for Mitsubishi seem clear-cut: access to a range of platforms, drivetrains and components at a fraction of the cost of what it would be to develop a car from scratch on their own.
And that bodes well for the brand, which only has two passenger cars on sale in Australia: the Lancer – currently in its 11th year on the market – and the Mirage, which is in dire straits on the sales charts against a slew of newer, better rivals.
Mitsubishi has previously confirmed it would focus on SUVs and commercial vehicles as its core business, but the tie-up with Renault-Nissan gives Mitsubishi a new lease on life, according to the company’s chief operations officer, Trevor Mann.
Mann was in Sydney recently, along with Renault-Nissan Alliance chairman and CEO, Carlos Ghosn, and he told CarAdvice that Mitsubishi is open to the idea of remaining in the passenger car segment, but the exact car and the exact position it would take up remains to be seen.
“I think we could not not focus on SUV, if you know what I mean. We’ve got to focus on SUVs, because, one; it’s where our strength and heritage is, and, two; it’s where the market is going – not only in Australia, but globally,” Mann said.
“The long debate is what do we do with the passenger car segment, where we’ve got a strong heritage product with Lancer,” he said.
Mann went on to suggest there is no announcement on the fate of the ageing small car, despite the fact that the plant that produces it is due to be retooled for a different model later this year.
“I don’t have a lot more to say on Lancer at this point in time, but that will come out in our mid-term announcement in October,” he said. “Basically we’re going to continue to sell Lancers for as long as we can.
“There’s a number of things we need to decide on: which vehicle in which segment; and we’ve got to understand where those vehicles will be manufactured – in order to make sure that we have a competitive advantage in our supply base of those vehicles, and what platforms we have available to us as an alliance to make those vehicles upon.
“That question is still ongoing,” Mann said.
The Lancer has, historically, been the brand’s strongest player in the passenger car stakes, and continues to sell quite well. To the end of May 2017, Mitsubishi Australia had sold 2923 examples of the hatch and sedan, ranking it ninth in the segment.
“From a commercial point of view we've got to have scale volume: we couldn’t just make a passenger car for Australia,” Mann said, referring to the other markets that Mitsubishi is strong, such as Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.
“The passenger car question is not just Australia – I was in Europe at the beginning of this week, and I was being asked the same questions about passenger cars as well. So we need to find a good solution, and part of that solution is not just the car, but also where it would be made,” Mann explained.
“We need to make sure we’ve got a good strong manufacturing base to supply not only Australia but also some other parts of the world.”
As to when we will find out more about Mitsubishi’s plans? Expect some news in October, when Mann and co announce their mid-term strategy for the brand.
“In the near future,” Mann said when asked when the public would know what the company has planned. “We’ve have to crystallise this for when we announce the mid-term plan in October. It’ll be announced then, but it’ll crystallise before then.”
In other markets like Taiwan, the Lancer will remain available as the Grand Lancer.