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Mitsubishi aims for 85,000-plus sales in 2019

Target practice: The Eclipse Cross (below) and Triton (right) will determine whether Mitsubishi Motors Limited Australia can sell more than 85,000 vehicles this year.

Another annual sales record in firing line for Mitsubishi Motors Australia Limited

12 Feb 2019

MITSUBISHI Motors Australia Limited (MMAL) is aiming for a second consecutive annual sales record in 2019, despite economic challenges last year prompting the new-vehicle market to decline for the first time since 2014.


MMAL bucked the trend last year, its volume increasing 5.3 per cent – to 84,944 units – in a market that was down by 3.0 per cent.


The result was an all-time high for the company – even more than when it was an Australian manufacturer – and good enough for fourth place in the brand sales race, behind Toyota, Mazda and Hyundai and ahead of fellow former local manufacturers Ford and Holden.


It has also started this year strongly, posting 6669 sales last month, which marked a 26.7 per cent increase on January 2018 and elevated the triple-diamond brand to third place overall.


Speaking to GoAuto at this month’s facelifted fifth-generation Triton national media launch in Hobart, MMAL president and chief executive John Signoriello was frank in his assessment of the current market conditions, although breaking the 85,000-unit barrier is still in his sights.


“I would like to say onwards and upwards, but the reality is the market is getting difficult,” he said. “We’re seeing global economic pressures that are affecting the Australian market.


“We look at the market decline last year, a lot of it was in passenger cars – and when I say a lot of it, it’s an understatement: the majority of it was.


“What we saw in the last four months was the SUV, LCV (segments) take a little bit of a dive, and a lot of it was in private (sales). I reckon that’ll continue this year.


“We’re probably in for a bit of a tough run in the next six-to-nine months – at least – with a bit of an upturn at the back end of the year … post-election and all the external factors.


“In saying that, I’d like to think that year-on-year we should be able to maintain at least some growth.


“Our focus has been SUV, LCV, so even if it slows down, I wouldn’t expect them to slow down as much as passenger.


“I actually was waiting for (passenger) to plateau. I thought it was going to settle around 40 per cent (market share), but it has just kept dropping. It’s 35 per cent of the market. December was a disaster, at 30 per cent of the market.


“I think it just means that our SUV, LCV strategy has paid off.”


As reported, the Micra micro hatch is MMAL’s last passenger car standing following the end of production of the current-generation Lancer small sedan and hatch in December 2017.


The Eclipse Cross small SUV was almost singlehandedly responsible for MMAL’s growth in 2018 – its first full year in showrooms – contributing 7389 incremental sales.


When asked if the Eclipse Cross will be able increase its volume this year, given it plays in the same segment as the brand’s best-selling model, the ageing ASX, Mr Signoriello said the entry-level ES variant introduced in September last year will play a critical role.


“I would like to think that we can hold our volume plus some,” he said. “Again, in a declining market, I think it’s important that we have got some activity.


“So, bringing in an ES, a base model, will hopefully help us maintain volume and when the market picks up, we can grow.


“Having a new Triton and offering a complete package (with it), I would hope that arrests any downturn in (overall) volume and help us at least maintain the volume we had last year plus grow some.”


While sales of the Triton improved last year, with the 24,896 examples sold representing a 5.5 per cent increase, Mr Signoriello said “we want to do more than 25,000” units in 2019.


“We’ve got a sales plan to hit, and we’ve ordered enough to do that,” he said. “We don’t want to flood the market, but it’d be nice to be able to sell too many.”


Any growth the Eclipse Cross and Triton achieve in 2019 might be offset by the loss of volume from the discontinued Lancer, although its limited stock is expected to last another five months.


Mr Signoriello added that a “few other bits and pieces”, such as Blackline special-edition variants, will be introduced this year to “spice up the product and keep it front of mind”.


While he stopped short of confirming timing for the corresponding facelift of the Triton’s mechanical sibling, the Pajero Sport large SUV, it is expected to hit showrooms this year.


One new model that could add incremental volume is no longer expected to arrive this year, with Mr Signoriello suggesting that Mitsubishi’s rebadged Renault Trafic mid-size van born from the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance might instead launch in 2020.


“It’s probably unlikely, at the end of this year,” he said. “It’d be nice if we could, but I think the timing’s probably a little bit later than that.”


Another key cog in MMAL’s 2019 sales push will be the recently facelifted Outlander mid-size SUV (15,573 units last year, -6.4%), which is likely to be bolstered this year by a new petrol-electric powertrain for its plug-in hybrid (PHEV) variants.


Aside from the Eclipse Cross and Triton, all other models in MMAL’s line-up declined in 2018, including the ASX (19,034 units, -1.9%), Lancer (7043, -6.8%), Pajero Sport (6566, -13.8%), Pajero large SUV (3279, -20.8%) and Mirage (1032, -34.0%).


A strong selling point for the new Triton will be the availability of a seven-year/150,000km warranty until the end of the current financial year, which replaces MMAL’s standard five-year/100,000km term.


Given similar sales promotions have been run with the Eclipse Cross and other models in the past and Toyota Australia’s move last month to a five-year period, Mr Signoriello said he was open to permanently extending the warranty to seven years.


“We’ll test the market and see what happens,” he said. “Whether we go seven years remains to be seen. I think what we’ve got now is relatively really strong.


“I think there’s an appetite to have seven years. It’s just whether it’s enough to justify the cost of doing it. It’s a business case at the end of the day, like anything.”

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