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Tokyo show: Mitsubishi Lancer could morph into SUV

Evolved Lancer: With dwindling sales in the passenger car segment, Mitsubishi’s Lancer (below) could turn into an SUV foreshadowed by the e-Evolution concept (left) for more mass market appeal.

Lancer small car may be replaced with SUV as Mitsubishi studies market and options

27 Oct 2017


MITSUBISHI remains committed to the Lancer nameplate despite production of the Japanese-built small car ending this year – and there is now the suggestion the model could resurface in the form of an SUV heralded by the e-Evolution concept unveiled in Tokyo this week.

Speaking to Australian journalists at the Tokyo motor show, Mitsubishi Motors Corporation chief operating officer Trevor Mann said the future of the Lancer, despite its discontinuation, was still undecided.

“Where to after that (end of production) is still under discussion,” he said.

“So we haven’t scratched it, if you know what I mean, but we haven’t agreed conceptually yet on where we should go.

“What I could consider is, what we do is right for our future based on this (brain), not right for our past based on this (heart).”

The Lancer small car has been part of Mitsubishi’s stable since 1973 and, from 1992, formed the basis of 10 generations of well-regarded rally-bred Evolution performance variants.

Mitsubishi’s current-generation Lancer has been in production since 2007, while a Chinese-built Grand Lancer version built on the same platform will continue to be offered in Taiwan.

Mr Mann pointed to the Lancer small car and the Mirage (aka Atrage) light sedan – the latter having been pulled from the Australian market late last year – as vehicles competing in a dwindling passenger car market.

“Now if you look at those segments on a global basis, they are in decline in almost every country in the world,” he said.

“So when we ask our product people, ‘Okay, what do you want for a new sedan, show me the volumes, show me the profitability, does it work?’ “It’s starting to become more and more difficult because … a lot of China’s industry capacity is on sedans, a lot of the US industrial capacity is on sedans – they’re shrinking.

“So what is happening in those markets is that the price point of those vehicles is coming under pressure, therefore the profitability is coming under pressure.

“In a declining market where everybody is fighting for their share, is that what you want to do?“You could focus on a hatch, or you could say, ‘I don’t want a Lancer, I want something else’.

For the first nine months of the year, Mitsubishi has sold 5485 Lancers in Australia, a year-on-year drop of 5.2 per cent and well off the pace of the segment-leading Toyota Corolla (28,665) and Mazda3 (25,457).

However, Mr Mann recognised the significance of the nameplate, as well as customer awareness in the badge, but warned against offering a misjudged Lancer model.

“We have hundreds of thousands of Lancer customers all over the world and some of them are coming into the showrooms and saying, ‘I’ve had three of these now, can I have a new one?,’” he said.

“We’re a brand with a limited portfolio. We can’t afford a failure. What we’ve got to make sure is what we do is right – right for our customers – and explain what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and why is this right.

“To some extent, that’s one of the reasons why we’ve shown the e-Evolution because it gives an example of what could be done – so, ‘is it interesting or not interesting?’ is what we’re trying to judge.”

Globally, the trend in customer buying preference is shifting away from passenger cars in favour of SUVs, and Mr Mann indicated that the smart move would be to follow the market and the volume.

“You’ve got to look at where I’m going to get the return on my investment, where the mass of customers are, and if we don’t believe there is a significant mass for us we wouldn’t do it,” he said.

“If we believe there is perhaps a unique proposition that we could make, that could start to make a bit of a market, then we’d be interested. So this is what we’re studying.”

When asked if Mitsubishi could become an SUV company, given crossovers are where the market is trending, Mr Mann did not rule anything out.

“I’m not going to say yes and I’m not going to say no, I’m saying it could be possible,” he said.

“The options are we’ve got two sedans at the moment … one of which is on its way out, do we go ahead with two? Do we go ahead with one? And if it’s one, how do we position that between the current two vehicles.

“Or do we do something else?”

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