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Tokyo show: Mitsubishi’s platform challenges

Out and about: Mitsubishi’s next-generation Outlander (left: current generation) will share development with its Renault-Nissan Alliance X-Trail cousin, but the brand’s ASX (below) crossover may have to wait before jumping to a common platform.

New ASX not due any time soon as Mitsubishi studies alliance tech availability

Mitsubishi logo27 Oct 2017

By TUNG NGUYEN in TOKYO

THE timing of shared platforms and technologies across the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance is proving challenging for its newest three-diamond-badged member as the Japanese brand juggles already-in-development projects and ageing models.

Speaking to Australian journalists at the Tokyo motor show this week, Mitsubishi Motors Corporation chief operating officer Trevor Mann explained the push and pull of balancing the need to update some of its existing models with the availability of common platforms.

“We want to look to see when is the right time to adopt an alliance platform,” he said. “And to adopt an alliance platform, if the stars are completely aligned, it’s not a decision.

“It’s almost that case with Outlander and X-Trail, but there might be another car that says, ‘Okay, we really need to go now, but our alliance partner is going to be two-and-half, three years’ time’.

“So the first challenge is: ‘Can we accelerate that? Can I delay mine a bit? I really don’t want to delay it two years. No, we can’t do it? In this time, we’ll go by ourselves with our existing asset.’“All of those decisions are made on a practical, almost one-by-one basis. The intent is there, the intent is that we will have common platforms, common powertrains, common technologies.

“What you see as a customer, what you feel, what you touch, what you experience, will be brand unique.”

Mitsubishi announced earlier this month that it would bring six ‘full-model-change’ vehicles to market over the coming three years, the first three of which have already been revealed to be the Indonesian-market Xpander people-mover, the Eclipse Cross SUV due to land in Australia in December and an electric ‘kei’ car for the Japanese domestic market.

Although Mr Mann would not be drawn on specifying the remaining three models, he indicated that development of these had begun before Nissan-Renault’s acquisition of Mitsubishi 12 months ago and are already locked in.

“What’s in the oven, is in the oven,” he said.

“We started this year in earnest in terms of increasing the investments, but you won’t see the fruits of that investment for three, four years,” he said.

“Obviously things have been mixed in the past and been put in the oven … there are others still cooking but they’re in the oven, so they will be what they will be.

“Nobody in their right mind is going to say, ‘Stop all that, let’s forget it, let’s do something new’ because one, you are wasting your money, and two, because of the lead time it takes. So we’re going to have to work with what we’ve got.”

Although a strong contender to fill one of the remaining three slots is Mitsubishi’s ageing ASX crossover – which recently received a fresh look and updated specifications in a 2017 model year update – Mr Mann hinted a new-generation version might not materialise in the short term.

“So if it (next-generation ASX) comes out in a very, relatively short space of time, you wouldn’t necessarily make a significant adjustment to that vehicle (existing ASX),” he said.

“If it was within three or four years, you could argue, yes, it’s worth doing something with this vehicle because I’m going to monetise the investment over that period of time.

“If it’s going to be one, one-and-a-half, two years, you might question whether you should make that significant change at this that moment in time.”

To the end of September this year, Mitsubishi Motors Australia has sold 13,785 ASX units to lead sub-$40,000 small SUV market by just 92 units ahead of the newer Mazda CX-3.

Despite the strong sales performance, Mr Mann recognised the need to update one of its best-selling global models to keep the ASX fresh against new competitors, but said “volume is not the whole story”.

“It’s also the profitability because we’ve got to make sure the cars we’re selling, the core cars, are profitable because if they’re not profitable then my plan’s no good because I won’t be able to recycle the expected revenues back into R&D and that’s when it will start to crumble,” he said.

“So we’ve got to make sure it’s not just a volume game, it’s not just a market share game, which is why in our mid-term plan we put both market share growth but also revenue growth and profitability.

“So those three things need to happen. Which is most important? To me its revenue and profitability because if we can do that then we know we’ve got a more sustainable future.”

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