It seems like Mitsubishi’s dealerships are only attracting people who are desperate for new car financing and... nobody else. The brand’s in bad shape, but I bet a little nostalgia-leveraging and leaning into today’s overland trend would go a long way.
Just so you have the necessary context to appreciate Mitsubishi’s situation for real, as of September, the company reported selling 87,849 vehicles in the United States in the first eight months of 2019. Over that same period of time, Toyota had sold 1,418,955 vehicles and Honda was at 1,092,284.
Granted, both those other brands have deeper lineups of cars to sell. Still.
I’ve seen a few press releases in which Mitsubishi calls itself “the fastest-growing Asian brand” here but, even if that’s true, it’s got a long way to catch up to the industry vanguards.
On paper, it seems like Mitsubishi should have a shot at relevance. It’s selling three models in popular segments–I mean, it sells three crossover SUVs–which are inexpensive compared to competitors and come with generous warranties.
Unfortunately, even a cursory investigation of what Mitsubishi’s actually selling these days isn’t particularly encouraging. I haven’t driven a new Mitsubishi in years but Car and Driver has. Its assessments range from unflattering:
“...it is hard to recommend the Outlander over more compelling compact-SUV alternatives.”
“Mitsubishi’s Outlander Sport might be the worst vehicle in its class. It’s not terribly well built, not enjoyable to drive, slow with its base engine, and generally unimpressive in virtually every other way. It would have to improve just to rank as awful.”
Are you wincing? Yeah, me too. While staring wistfully at a picture of a 4G63-powered all-wheel-drive second-gen Eclipse.
Anyway, we could croon about Good Old Days all weekend, but the reality is Mitsubishi isn’t serving up any particularly hot hardware right now. And unless you believe in magic, you’re not counting on that electric space buggy thing going into production or the next Outlander being good.
So what do you do if you’re stuck selling mediocre meat? Sell the sizzle, fam. You might have heard your grandpa say that, but, it worked for Land Rover–that company built its whole brand off the anglophilia of upper-class Americans. Subaru has made itself synonymous with conscientious adventurousness. Tesla’s getting its customers to shrug off build quality deficiencies by making it seem cool to be a beta tester.
Mitsubishi has a rich (legit) heritage of off-road success, it sells cheap SUV-type vehicles, car camping in SUV-type vehicles is A Thing right now. If I were managing a Mitsubishi store, I’d be trying to stir those ingredients into something fun by putting stickers and lights and roof tent-adjacent accessories onto some floor models and Instagramming the shit out of them.
Remember when that Chevy dealer in Minnesota stuck a few yards of white vinyl on a Silverado and bought a deluge of media coverage as every car blog (including Jalopnik) excitedly shared pictures of it?
The Three Diamond brand doesn’t have as much nostalgia energy as Chevrolet, but it seems to be like doing up a few Outlanders with retro graphics and a bunch of extra headlights while getting some pictures of the SUVs doing Subaruy things would be a pretty inexpensive way to get people’s attention.
Obviously I’m not the only one who thinks so, because while I was doing research for this little rant I noticed that Mitsubishi backed a Rebelle Rally team with an Eclipse Cross this year.
This isn’t quite as elegant as I’d imagined it, but it’s close. Needs a strip of lights above the windshield and a slightly more old-school vibe.
The Rebelle’s an all-female off-road navigation rally and Mitsubishi’s effort in it actually sounds pretty epic. You can read the company’s rundown in its entirety, but:
“Rachael Ridenour, a U.S. Army combat veteran with 31 years of service, will pair up with driver Karah Behrend, a seven-year U.S. Air Force veteran who had to medically retire after losing the use of her lower extremities and parts of her hands to a degenerative neurological disease. Behrend will become the first disabled athlete to compete in the Rebelle when she and Ridenour take the start in Lake Tahoe, California, with Behrend behind the wheel of a minimally modified 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross equipped with hand-controls.”
Somebody off-roading without the use of some limbs is a lot more badass than any decorated crossover, but the point I was trying to make is that this Eclipse Cross looks much more interesting with all-terrain tires and graphics than any other Eclipse Cross I’ve ever seen.
If Mitsubishi really wants to be successful, it’s going to have to start bringing more competitive products to market. But in the meantime, I wonder if ambitious dealers could make some lemonade with aftermarket partnerships and a few casual product placements.