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Mitsubishi tackles brand image over sales growth

Fresh start: Mitsubishi’s slow roll-out of new and refreshed product has kicked off with the facelifted Outlander SUV, while the new Triton ute launches later this month.

Product, reliability to boost brand, but Mitsubishi not ‘chasing crazy numbers’

20 Apr 2015

MITSUBISHI Motors Australia Limited (MMAL) will leverage its history and heritage as it attempts to rebuild its brand image, but it is not chasing huge sales gains Down Under.

The Japanese car-maker has been forced to work on its image after it had slipped in the minds of buyers, thanks to years of retail-focussed marketing campaigns, perceived quality and reliability issues and an ageing model line-up.

Speaking at the updated Outlander launch in Sydney last week, Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (MMC) global president and COO Tetsuro Aikawa said the company is determine to rebuild its brand globally, and highlighted the importance of the Australian market.

“We are also pleased to report we are working on new product for introduction in Australia and around the world,” he said. “These models need to be the best in the market for design and technology to rebuild the Mitsubishi Motors brand.

“I must emphasise, Australia is a critical market for us and will play an important role in achieving our long-time goals. In the last few years Mitsubishi Motors in Australia has risen to be a key player in our global business. Australia now is top fifth market in the world.” When asked about Aikawa-San’s comments regarding brand building from a local perspective, Mitsubishi Motors Australia Limited (MMAL) executive director of marketing Tony Principe said the company was aiming to highlight its long history, while also looking ahead to the future.

“The basic aim is to say, we have a history, we have got a heritage and basically build on that,” he said. “So let’s get the products out there and the technologically advanced features into our products, and obviously the Outlander is another one.

“We are basically trying to rebuild our bases in all of those (small, medium and large SUV) key segments. MMC is keen to raise the quality, reliability, durability and of course the styling and get a more distinctive position in the marketplace.” Mr Principe said the competition in the local SUV and light-commercial vehicle market has put pressure on the brand, but it is trying to cover a number of segments within these markets.

“For us the LCV and SUV area has been a traditional strength and obviously over the last few years … the market itself has changed a lot,” he said.

“The SUV market has boomed, basically doubled in last 10 years. And of course there has been segmentation and fragmentation. So obviously we have tried to get into all of the areas. It took us a while to get an ASX, but we got one in 2010.” In late 2013, Mitsubishi Motors Company announced its plan to concentrate on developing SUVs, light commercials and electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, with less of a focus on core passenger models including the Lancer small car and now defunct mid-size US-spec Galant and Australia’s Magna/380.

Despite the renewed emphasis on SUVs, Mr Principe said there were no new model lines on the horizon to add to its existing portfolio that includes ASX, Outlander, Challenger and Pajero.

“We are not sure, there maybe an opportunity. Right now they (MMC) are saying they are going to focus all their energies on those particular models, let’s strengthen them.

“The reality is there is still a lot of growth in those segments with those models and probably we are still scratching the surface on a global scale.” Mr Principe said it is a similar case for light-commercial vehicles, with the company concentrating on the Triton, meaning a replacement for the Express van is unlikely.

“They seem to have really honed in on the pick-up cab-chassis area, and if you look at what’s happening globally, the van market is probably a bit tougher and it’s not growing. Even in Australia it’s a bit flat, there are lots of competitors.” Mitsubishi has changed its marketing strategy in the past 12 to 24 months from being heavily retail-focussed to highlighting its product more effectively in a bid to rebuild the brand, a campaign that Mr Principe said is “slowly” having an impact.

“We are starting to see the brand intention slowly rising. It’s not a five-minute fix. A bit of it is advertising, but a bit of it is also product.” Mitsubishi sold 68,637 vehicles in the 2014 calendar year, dropping four per cent over 2013, but just enough to take sixth spot for the year ahead of Nissan (66,025).

This is some way off the target of 100,000 Australian sales that former MMC president and COO Osamu Masuko had flagged at the 2013 Tokyo motor show.

Mr Principe said Mitsubishi, which uses the Japanese fiscal year (April 1 to March 31) for sales data, would not chase massive volume increases, and will stick to similar numbers to the past two years in 2015.

“What we have told the dealers now is that we are not chasing any crazy numbers. Sustainable, profitable growth.

“The next financial year, starting April, we are looking at maybe 72,000. Small growth.”

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