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Mitsubishi Australia hopeful Lancer will survive

Stalwart: The current-generation Mitsubishi Lancer, in production since 2007, will be discontinued next month but its future remains up in the air.

Mitsubishi’s future in small-car class ‘a question of time, money, opportunities’

28 Nov 2017

MITSUBISHI Motors Australia Limited (MMAL) remains optimistic that its Japanese parent will not completely abandon the small-car segment, despite the discontinuation of the long-running current Japanese-built Lancer next month – and no successor in sight.

MMAL chief operating officer Tony Principe told GoAuto this week that while the fate of a potential Lancer replacement is still under discussion, Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (MMC) in Japan aims to be a competitor in as many segments as possible.

“MMC, what they’re saying is they still want to be a player in all segments, so it’s just a question of time and money – and opportunities,” he said.

“It’s still a big global segment, and if you want to be a player, eventually you’ve probably got to have one. And I think they fully understand that.”

MMAL product planning manager James Tol explained that the problem for the Australian market was the ever-dwindling interest in sedans, which are still considered popular offerings outside Australia.

“Even though there’s been a very strong, consistent decline in passenger car, it’s still big,” he said. “The passenger car market is still not trivial, it’s quite large.

“The one area that’s still very strong is hatch. Sedans are in all classes – large, medium, small – sedans are really struggling, but that’s the real conundrum that we face because that’s in our market.

“Still, globally, there’s big demand for sedans, so that makes our planning a little bit more challenging.”

Mr Principe added that there were other variables to consider with the sedan market, given the vacuum created by the closure of local manufacturing and, in particular, the end of the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon large sedans.

Toyota’s Camry is now being sourced out of Japan, and while the Falcon has gone, the Commodore nameplate will return early next year as a European-built liftback and wagon.

“People were buying Camrys, Commodores, Falcons, where are they going to go now? The jury is still out as to where exactly they are going to go,” he said.

“Are they going to jump out of a Falcon, Commodore, Camry sedan into another sedan or are they going to come over to SUVs, or what? Are they going to jump down to small sedans which are getting bigger? (It is) a bit hard to tell.”

As previously reported, MMAL has stockpiled as many examples of the current Lancer as possible ahead of its manufacturing end date next month.

It estimates that it will be able to continue selling the Lancer well into 2018, with current sales figures coming in at about 600 units per month.

Despite its age, the Lancer still represents an important model for Mitsubishi, with 5993 sales to the end of October despite the Japanese manufacturer’s heavy concentration on its SUVs and light-commercials.

The only other passenger vehicle in MMAL’s line-up, the diminutive Mirage hatch, currently sells around 127 units per month, which represents a 46.2 per cent drop year-on-year.

However, the popularity of the Mirage in South-East Asian markets means Australia can leverage that success to continue offering the light car here.

As GoAuto has reported, Mitsubishi could source a donor vehicle or platform from its relatively new alliance partners Renault and Nissan.

The most likely donor platform is the CMF architecture, which underpins such models as the Renault Megane as well as the Nissan X-Trail and Qashqai.

At the Tokyo motor show last month, Mitsubishi revealed the e-Evolution concept, which borrows its name from the rally-bred Lancer variant that directly rivalled the Subaru WRX STI during its production run, sparking rumours that the next iteration of the Lancer could be reborn as an SUV.

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