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Mitsubishi to edge ahead in 2018

Outstanding result: The Outlander was Mitsubishi’s third best seller last year, achieving a 34 per cent lift on the back of extra fleet sales.

Sustainable sales growth and ongoing dealer profitability key focuses for Mitsubishi

Mitsubishi logo30 Jan 2018

By TIM NICHOLSON

MITSUBISHI Motors Australia Limited (MMAL) is targeting ongoing sales growth in 2018 after last year achieving its best result since the late 1990s and leapfrogging Ford to take fifth spot in the Australian new-vehicle market.

Speaking to GoAuto at the media launch of the all-new Eclipse Cross small SUV in Hobart last weekend, MMAL president and CEO John Signoriello said the company was well satisfied with its haul of 80,654 units in 2017 – its highest sales since it hit 84,142 in 1998 as a local manufacturer – but added that any further growth would come from a sustainable business strategy.

Last year’s result marked a 10 per cent increase over 2016, with almost all of Mitsubishi’s models recording sales growth the only exceptions were 4x2 versions of the big-selling Triton (-21.3 per cent) and the Mirage micro hatch (-49 per cent).

Mr Signoriello, who started in the top job in June last year, predicted steady sales for 2018 and said MMAL would not just compete on price, adding that the company puts significant effort into determining the positioning and specification of all of its models to better compete against rivals.

 center imageLeft: Mitsubishi Motors Australia Limited (MMAL) president and CEO John Signoriello

“I would say this year, around the same mark isn’t unreasonable,” he said. “To improve on it is probably our task. We would look for year-on-year growth.

“The questions is, how much is realistic, that makes good business sense. We haven’t set our targets for the next (Japanese) financial year which is April to March. Regardless of that, it is going to be year-on-year growth. It is just: to what degree?“Price is just another one of the marketing tools. It is not purely just price.

We look at specification, even the age of the product, how long have we had it in our market. It is a number of elements. It is very dangerous to go just on price.”

Mr Signoriello said that while he was proud of the fact that Mitsubishi ended the year among the top five best-selling brands – behind Toyota, Mazda, Hyundai and Holden – he was not focused on maintaining this position or trying to move further up the ladder.

“I guess it makes the people associated with the brand feel pretty proud,” he said. “In the end, we have got our targets, and that’s the key. It is about a sustainable business model and that is my focus.

“We planned to hit that number (80,000) early on, so it wasn’t, ‘Oh, wow, we are close to 80,000, let’s go for Ford.’ It worked out that way. You can get caught up with that. We don’t tend to focus too much on what the other guys are doing.

“Obviously you’ve got to understand it and how it impacts you. But you really have to focus on what you do and do it properly.”

Mitsubishi’s third best-selling model last year behind the Triton (23,605) and ASX (19,403) crossover was the Outlander mid-size SUV (16,632), which experienced a 34 per cent sales boost over its 2016 result – enough to ensure it was the vehicle’s best sales year since the current-generation model arrived in late 2012.

It placed fifth in the all-important, volume-selling mid-size SUV segment behind the Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson, Toyota RAV4 and Nissan X-Trail, but beat the Kia Sportage and Subaru Forester.

Mr Signoriello put the result down to appealing packaging and growing interest from fleet operators.

“Outlander is on the up,” he said. “It has taken a few iterations and model years to get it to this level. The additional safety features have helped in the fleet space as well.

“There’s definitely been a lot of fleet interest in that car, because it is a wagon, a crew wagon. It is a good-sized vehicle. It has done really, really well.”

While Mitsubishi’s model renewal program has been slower than many other mainstream manufacturers, Mr Signoriello said he would like the model cycle to speed up in the medium term with the goal of launching one all-new model a year.

He added that the company’s takeover by the Renault-Nissan Alliance last year would open up opportunities for more new models on shared platforms, and suggested the soon-to-be discontinued Lancer could live on.

“That will bring lots of opportunities when that happens in a few years’ time.

Maybe we will find some gaps being filled in segments that we are not competing in or strong in. And that is possibly when a Lancer could be reborn,” he revealed.

Production of the Australian-market Lancer finished last year, but MMAL has enough stock to keep sales going until the end of the year.

While the company is yet to officially announce plans for a Lancer revival, GoAuto has previously reported that a future Lancer could emerge as a crossover rather than a sedan or hatchback.

Mr Signoriello said any future Lancer model would be welcome in Australia given the model’s heritage, but highlighted the declining sales in the passenger car segment.

“I don’t think it is necessarily important for the business, but I think it will be nice to have,” he said. “Again, it is a segment to compete in. And it is a name that has proved itself. The market is at 37 per cent passenger, but at the same time it is still declining.

“So is it a nice to have? Yeah it would be great to have. Is it a must-have? No.”

Another model Mr Signoriello would like to have in his stable is a flagship version of the Triton pick-up to compete with the likes of Ford’s upcoming Ranger Raptor, the HSV Colorado SportsCat and Toyota HiLux Rugged X, but he would not confirm the existence of such a variant.

“We will have to wait and see. I would like to. Let’s see where we end up with it. We’ll see,” he said.

Mr Signoriello defended the profitability of MMAL and added that the dealer network was satisfied and making money.

“Our dealers seem very happy,” he said. “Obviously, not everyone is going to be happy – the way the dealers operate, there are different business models – but I would like to think that our franchise is profitable to the network. And the numbers tell us they are.

“It is a business partnership. They need to be profitable and we want them profitable. If they are profitable at selling cars, we are moving vehicles and hitting our targets. So it is a win-win. It definitely can’t be one way.”

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