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Mitsubishi on a charge

Future plans: Mitsubishi's "Global Small" concept - a replacement for the Colt - will be built at the brand's new Thai plant from March 2012.

Plug-in variants across all Mitsubishi Motors models by 2015

12 Apr 2011

MITSUBISHI has revealed that its plan to launch eight new electric-based vehicles by 2015 has been partly funded by its success in the Australian market since the closing of its manufacturing operations in Adelaide.

The ambitious technology leap involving full-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, which has now been confirmed to cover every vehicle in its range including commercial vehicles such as Triton, was revealed in an exclusive interview with GoAuto by outgoing president and CEO of Mitsubishi Motors Australia, Masahiko Takahashi, and the incoming president and CEO, Genichiro Nishina.

Other vehicles include a full-electric version of Mitsubishi’s forthcoming ‘Global Small’ compact car, while a plug-in version of the next-generation Outlander SUV was previewed last year by the PX-MiEV concept.

As GoAuto has reported, this plug-in system – which combines technology from the i-MiEV city car for the rear wheels and a parallel hybrid system for the front wheels – is also expected on the next-generation Lancer Evo and other derivatives.

Mr Takahashi took over as chief of MMAL from Robert McEniry in March last year and now moves back to Japan to oversee the recovery of Mitsubishi’s position in North America where share has dropped to 0.6 per cent.

Mr Nishina, a former president and CEO of Mitsubishi Motors Europe and more recently head of ASEAN operations, took over the lead role in Australia on April 1.

While Mitsubishi Motors Corporation announced in January that it would produce eight new electrified vehicles within four years under its latest mid-term plan, Mr Takahashi has now made it clear that this will apply to every vehicle in the Japanese manufacturer’s range.

Mr Takahashi told GoAuto: “On the technology side, we are very much aligned to environmental issues and electric vehicles (including) a series of eight new electric-based vehicles by 2015.

“That means that every vehicle in the MMC range will have an electric or plug-in hybrid electric variant by 2015.”

 center imageFromt top: Mitsubishi Motors Australia president and CEO Genichiro Nishina, outgoing CEO Masahiko Takahashi, Mitsubishi ASX, Mitsubishi Outlander, Mitsubishi i-MiEV.

He also revealed that the EV investment was being covered by positive cash flows from markets like Australia which had been “very profitable” since the Adelaide plant ceased to be a drain on the Australian business.

He said that the Australian and Japanese markets provided the best cash flow for MMC along with the Middle East and Africa.

The EV strategy is part of a four-point plan by MMC to revive the company’s international fortunes: Russia, North America, China and the Global Small project.

Mr Takahashi said that to get more volume in Russia, where the import duty is high, MMC would have to produce more cars locally.

“All the Japanese car makers are looking at the Russian market. But for us, in terms of risk management, we have determined to pursue our joint venture with Peugeot-Citroen and share a new plant. So that is a major project,” he said.

Mr Nishina said: “Because we were doing very good business in Russia. Market share was quite high amongst the Japanese brands and we have the joint venture project with PSA. So recovery was good.”

He said that MMC’s recovery in Western Europe was on track until the GFC.

“However, suddenly, the Euro was getting weaker and weaker and this prevented MMC from keeping its retail prices in the marketplace,” Mr Nishina said. “So we were forced to increase prices in order to compensate for the huge loss caused by foreign exchange losses against the Japanese yen“So that was making sales difficult and currently we are balancing price and volume.

“Fortunately, the ASX was very well accepted in Western Europe. We developed the ASX diesel which was also well accepted. As far as volume is concerned it is fine but the problem is with the Euro which remains a headache.”

Mr Takahashi said the United States was “still struggling” and losing money.

“Trying to minimise those losses is the major role for the time being. But how to revitalise our US operations? First of all (we plan) to change the locally produced product names and then activate sales more and more,” he said.

MMC recently announced it would build the ASX in Illinois.

The third project is China where MMC is seeking another joint venture for an integrated manufacturing and sales operation in addition to its existing joint venture.

The fourth project is the Global Small – a replacement for the Colt built for the global market which will be made from a new plant in Thailand to be exported around the world from mid-to-late 2012.

Referring to the product program for Australia, Mr Takahashi said: “In 2012 we do not have any new model changes but we will continue to upgrade and improve existing products with upgrades to CO2 and fuel consumption, improving interior quality trims, and so on.

“The highlight for 2012 will be the diesel engine variant for Outlander that will appear in probably August September. Lancer 2012 model year will have some refreshment of the exterior and also quality improvements “We are expecting the Global Small in (late) 2012 or 2013. It will be a new product in a new segment that will be a smaller replacement for the Colt but will be much stronger than the Colt which is selling less than 100 units a month. Perhaps when the Global Small is introduced we can expect some hundreds a month,” he said.

Thai start-of-production is in 2012. The first market to get Colt replacement will be Japan and Thailand. Australia will be after that. The current Colt will be available until mid to late 2012.

Asked about the impact of Chinese domestic brands on MMAL’s sales, Mr Nishina said: “We cannot assess the impact of Chinese product at the moment. We look at the pricing and the appearance of the product which is really the same (as our cars).

“But the real value of the Chinese product will not be assessed for two years, three years or five years with resale value and quality at that time. So it is too early for us to assess the real value of the Chinese product.”

Asked if MMAL would import cars made by MMC in China, Mr Nishina said: “Cars made by MMC in China, in terms of scale and investment, are for the Chinese market.”

Mr Takahashi added: “That is my understanding of it. Also our strategy in Thailand is not only to take care of Thailand but also cover the global market. The China joint venture factory is to cover the growing China market.”

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