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Mitsubishi keeps its faith in Lancer

Locked in: The next Lancer is still an unknown, but the next-gen Pajero – likely to be based on the GC-PHEV concept from the 2013 Tokyo motor show – will arrive in the 2016 Japanese financial year.

Next-gen Lancer timing still unknown but MMAL confident of continued sales

14 Jul 2014

MITSUBISHI’S ageing Lancer range will be forced to soldier on for at least a few more years in Australia, with no word on timing for the next-generation version of its small car contender.

As a part of its mid-term ‘New Stage 2016’ business plan that was announced in November last year, the Japanese car-maker confirmed that it had signed an agreement with the Renault-Nissan Alliance to build the next Lancer, as well as a replacement for the Galant mid-sizer, on Renault platforms.

Mitsubishi Motors Australia Limited (MMAL) director of marketing Tony Principe conceded timing for the next Lancer had yet to be confirmed, adding “we don’t know when” the next-gen model will replace the seven-year-old CJ series.

Mr Principe said the company’s local arm still had faith in the Lancer and that the model’s sales dip last year was a result of a production slow-down in Japan to focus on its new EK ‘Kei’ car, which is the result of a joint venture with Nissan.

“The reality for us is the Lancer still has got some legs,” he said. “It’s still a five-star car, it’s still reasonably good looking. We have done a few tweaks, we have done the GSR (variant).”“Our access to volumes on Lancer has been restricted over the last year and a half, mainly because of the success of that little ‘Kei’ car (the EK).

“That car comes out of the same factory as Lancer so what’s happened is that all production has been moved to that little car because it was a joint venture (with Nissan) and obviously the priority was getting the EK into the Japanese market.” Mr Principe said that after continually reduced volumes in that period, Lancer production has since steadied, which will free up supply for the Australian market.

Lancer sales have slid by 28.4 per cent to the end of June this year compared with the same period in 2013, with Mitsubishi’s year-to-date haul of 4388 well behind the big hitters in the segment, such as the top-selling Mazda3 (22,524), Toyota Corolla (22,166) and Hyundai i30 (15,692) as well as the Nissan Pulsar (5055) and Honda Civic (4666).

The Lancer’s underperforming hatchback range was consolidated in March to a single high-spec $22,990 GSR variant with VRX-style body adornments and a bigger 2.4-litre engine. A MY14.5 version of the range rolled out in April with sportier styling cues and extra equipment.

Despite the drop in sales, Mr Principe said the company would not need to adjust its Lancer targets down for this year, as it was hoping to achieve a similar result to 2013.

“That small segment is still showing some signs of potential growth. So I don’t know we actually need to reduce our targets, what we are hoping is we can hold.

“Last year we sold 12,000 (Lancers). If we can get it to 12-13,000 on a regular basis, we would be happy. As long as we have the Mirage sedan and hatch complimenting it, probably as a total we would be reasonably happy until we get the new one.”

Mr Principe said he expected interest in the Lancer to continue for some time, “provided the value proposition is still there,” and ruled out lowering prices further to attract buyers.

“I think dropping prices doesn’t really work. The reality is in the longer term, all it does is degrade your brand. We are trying to add more spec, add more value and hold that position as much as possible.”

Mr Principe also said it was unlikely the current-generation Lancer would be phased out prior to the arrival of the new model, as it would leave a huge gap in Mitsubishi’s global line-up.

“That car is pretty important in the US and Europe. Before they would contemplate replacing this model there would have to be another one available.

“With joint ventures, things can happen very quickly. The expectation would be they would throw a lot of resources into it once a decision is made and you would get something reasonably quick. We don’t know how long.”

The current-generation Lancer arrived in Australia in October 2007 in sedan guise before the arrival of a Sportback body-style a year later in 2008, and it competes against a number of newer rivals, including the Ford Focus, Mazda3, Honda Civic, Nissan Pulsar, Hyundai i30 and Holden Cruze.

While question marks linger over the timing of the next Lancer, Mitsubishi has already confirmed that a number of next-generation models would surface in the coming years, including a new ASX compact crossover in the 2015 Japanese financial year that starts in April.

The Triton-based Challenger four-wheel drive will also land in the same period, while an all-new Pajero is scheduled for the following Japanese financial year, starting from April 2016.

The ASX and Pajero are likely to be based on concepts revealed at last year’s Tokyo motor show, with the GC-PHEV previewing the Pajero and the XR-PHEV hinting at the look of the next ASX.

Both models are likely to feature the option of a plug-in hybrid drivetrain as a part of the Japanese brand’s move to electric vehicles, plug-ins and mild hybrids.

Next up for Mitsubishi in Australia will be the new Triton utility in the first half of next year as well as a major facelift for the Outlander compact SUV.

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