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Evolution on the back burner: Mitsubishi

Case of the X: Though Mitsubishi has not had a sportscar in its stable since the Lancer Evolution X was discontinued in 2016, the brand is cognisant of the importance of a halo sports model.

Performance models a low priority for Mitsubishi as it works on profitability

12 Nov 2018

By TUNG NGUYEN in BANGKOK

MITSUBISHI’S return to the sportscar space with a high-performance model will have to wait until the brand re-establishes itself after joining the Renault-Nissan Alliance last year, according to Mitsubishi Motors Corporation corporate vice-president of product strategy Vincent Cobee.
 
However, when speaking to Australian journalists at the reveal of the facelifted Triton in Bangkok, Mr Cobee said the Evolution nameplate and other performance vehicles were at the Japanese brand’s core.
 
“You don’t build a brand without icons,” he said. “To me …. the Mitsubishi brand has been built around icons from that car (Triton), Pajero and, to a substantial extent in a number of markets, Lancer and Lancer Evo.
 
“And for different reasons, durability and capability on the pick-up, amazing off-road capability on the Pajero and performance (on the Lancer Evolution).”
 
However, Mr Cobee explained that a return to the sportscar space was a low priority for Mitsubishi at the moment, despite now being part of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance which offers the ability to borrow parts and platforms from the other brands.
 
“We have two challenges, one is … we are in the process of rebuilding trust as a brand and as a corporation, and I think we have a very clear logic of management which is you run, and then you sprint,” he said.
 
“We need to re-establish credibility, profitability and integrity, mainstream product capability, and then we will go into value products, and hopefully one day we will go into performance products.
 
“You need to be credible before you invest the required investment in those cars, which are usually brand leaders but not profit leaders.”
 
The second hurdle to overcome, explained Mr Cobee, is the imminent mass-market introduction of electrified powertrains, which he expects to also expand to sportscars.
 
“The second challenge is … (the Renault) Megane RS may be the last ICE (internal combustion engine)-powered vehicles to be sellable because emissions regulations and standards, and also customer, perception will move us to electrified powertrains,” he said.
 
“The good news is that electrified powertrains can actually be much more fun.
 
“If you look back five or 10 years ago, electrified vehicles were what I call ‘guilt’ cars,  and today when you look at Outlander PHEV they are capable cars, basically all-round cars.
 
“And tomorrow, more and more, you will see EVs or electrified vehicles becoming pleasure cars.”
 
However, Mr Cobee hinted that such a performance model could be revealed in the medium term, after refreshing models such as the Pajero Sport, Outlander and ASX.
 
“To answer your question, not today, but I wouldn’t be shocked if was in some years.”
 
Mitsubishi’s last performance model was the Lancer Evolution X that was discontinued in 2016, and in prior years, the Japanese car-maker also offered the FTO front-drive coupe, Pajero Evolution SUV, 3000GT/GTO flagship and Eclipse liftback.
 
However, at last year’s Tokyo motor show, Mitsubishi revealed the e-Evolution concept, an SUV with three electric motors, which could point the way forward for the Japanese brand’s future performance ambitions.
 
Meanwhile, Mitsubishi Motors Corporation chief operating officer Trevor Mann revealed a similar problem in updating the ageing Pajero off-roader, which has been in service since 2006.
 
“The passion still exists… we've not solidified our position as yet, it’s something that our hearts really want to do, and our engineers want to do, but we’ve got to make sure we have the right business case,” he said.
 
“That segment is shrinking because of emissions regulations mainly, so we need to make sure that when we do something, we do it profitably. We touched on it with the Triton, can hybrid help us do that? In theory yes.
 
“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 in the oven yet.”

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