Mitsubishi has no Pajero in development yet, and the current version doesn’t have long to live before safety and emissions regulations in a growing number of countries spell the end of the current model’s 20-year run.
The global market for big, tough and affordable 4x4s like this is actually battling as people opt for softer crossovers, and the cost of making one that meets all the legal requirements are steeper than ever. The Pajero has already been retired from Europe, though Mitsubishi Australia sells it still.
However, don’t rule out the prospect of a reborn Pajero after a likely hiatus. The big question is, what type of vehicle will it be?
Right now Mitsubishi says it needs to focus on becoming a profitable company after a tough period. It also needs to hit the targets it’s agreed to as a part of the massive Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.
The good news is, it’s on track to do this under new operational management, and has pledged to up its research and development spend by 50 per cent over its mid-term company plan – because its model range is ageing and its sales lean heavily on value pricing, instead of building its ‘brand’.
This healthier position means it can look at expanding into areas where it was once dominant as part of its next planning phase, commencing from 2020. Moreover, it can leverage the scale that the Alliance gives it, by potentially sharing development costs on a Pajero-style vehicle.
Nissan might want a Y61 Patrol successor, potentially, and may see merit in making a tough and upmarket SUV in this mould that isn’t an oversized US/Middle East focused machine like the Y62.
However, there's always the chance that Mitsubishi will instead turn the Pajero name into something more urban-focused, with its great Super All-Wheel Control system, sharing a platform with the next Nissan Pathfinder...
“The passion [for Pajero] still exists,” MMC’s COO Trevor Mann told us this week. Mann is a British Nissan alumni shuffled across to its partner.
“We've not solidified our position as yet, but it’s something that our hearts really want to do, and our engineers want to do. We’ve got to make sure we have the right business case.”
There’s that phrase again. The key could be expanding its plug-in hybrid technology, which is going to be made easier by the fact that it’s the PHEV development hub for the Alliance, Its dual-motor Outlander PHEV has been a smash hit in Europe and Japan, and broken new ground, after all.
“That segment is shrinking because of emissions regulations mainly, so we need to make sure that when we do something we do it profitably. Can hybrid help us do that? In theory yes.
“But do we have a full business case that will allow us to spend our R&D money to take the next step? Not quite. We have the ingredients but we haven’t put them together and in the oven yet,” Mann said.
So summarise, then; Mitsubishi will have to retire the Pajero soon (we don’t know exactly when), and can’t afford to make another one yet, unless it sacrifices higher-volume projects. But it wants to, and hopefully the engineers win the argument in the end. Maybe Nissan can help.