“People keep asking if we’re going to go away,” Mitsubishi Motors North America COO Don Swearingen told reporters earlier this month.
Seemingly anticipating yesterday’s TTAC QOTD â€” Does Mitsubishi Need To Exist? â€” Swearingen was defending Mitsubishi’s approach to the North American market following the automaker’s partial takeover by its Nissan compatriot.
Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn claimed the Mitsubishi chairmanship in October after spending $2.3 billion in exchange for 34 percent of the company’s automobile manufacturing business.
Three months later, The Detroit Bureau reports, Mitsubishi North America’s Swearingen said, “We are separate companies and will remain competitors.”
Already, Mitsubishi has decided to kill off its lone C-segment car, the Lancer, and there is apparently no intention to replace the Lancer with a rebadged Nissan Sentra.
Long dead, the Galant nameplate likely has no future as some sort of next-gen Altima twin. “We are focusing on a narrow model range of mainly SUVs,” Mitsubishi’s Osamu Masuko said in late 2015, prior to the rapid decline of America’s midsize market in 2016.
Rather, Mitsubishi intends to fill a gap early next year between the Outlander and Outlander Sport with “the best vehicle Mitsubishi has ever produced,” Swearingen says. Given the timetable, this vehicle can’t possibly be a shared effort with Nissan. Indeed, Mitsubishi design planner Kazou Yana wants Mitsubishi to now beÂ more distinct from Nissan.
Mitsubishi and Nissan instead look forward toÂ the long-term benefits of saving money on purchasing and logistics, The Detroit Bureau reported earlier this month.
We therefore can’t look forward to three-diamond-badged variants of the Maxima, Murano, Pathfinder, Titan, Armada, and GT-R, not that youÂ were looking forward to such vehicles. But Mitsubishi points to its own increasing success in the U.S. market and the company’s strength in the utility vehicle sector as a harbinger of success. While a long ways from the 345,111 new vehicles sold by the automaker in America 15 years ago, 2016’s 96,267-unit performance nevertheless represented an eight-year high for Mitsubishi in the U.S.
2016 was Mitsubishi’s fourth consecutive year of growth. Since the depths of the recession in 2009, Mitsubishi’s U.S. volume has risen 78 percent in a market that grew 68 percent during the same time period. (Mitsubishi Canada’s 2016 sales were only 411 sales shy of the brand’s all-time record set two years ago.)
Signs of rude health? Not exactly. Mitsubishi’s U.S. market share is now at 0.55 percent, down from 2.05 percent in 2002.
But the downturn appears to be over. If Mitsubishi dealers could get the pickup truck they so desire, if Mitsubishi could finally live up to its Outlander plug-in promises, and if next year’s small utility vehicle arrives on time, maybe then we’ll stop asking questions about the brand’s North American viability.
Timothy Cain is the founder ofÂ GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcarÂ and on Facebook.