Mitsubishi's new design focus: Friendly, with a bigger badge

TOKYO - Mitsubishi Motors Corp. wants to tell the world that it's a new company - not as technocentric as before and not the company of dubious quality that has been tainted by a recall scandal in Japan.

A design look unveiled last week at the Tokyo Motor Show is meant to express that message visually.

"The message is that Mitsubishi will provide some quite different life-style-oriented vehicles" targeting various kinds of people, said Olivier Boulay, the automaker's new head of design and the man charged with executing the mission.

"This is why we decided to switch our design focus to a more friendly look. After all, we sell to people, not computers."

High-tech ice cube

At a pre-show briefing for reporters, Boulay accused the company of "excessive technology," an emphasis that has left customers with an image of Mitsubishi as "cold and unfriendly." As he spoke, the giant screen behind him displayed a block of ice.

Mitsubishi S.U.P.

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Mitsubishi Space Liner

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Mitsubishi CZ2

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Boulay, who joined Mitsubishi in May from Mercedes-Benz, where he created the Maybach superluxury car, said the look begins with a new front end.

In the past, Boulay said, it looked as if Mitsubishi would "first make a grille and then look for a place to put" the company's three-diamond badge. Sometimes a small badge was almost hidden in a large grille.

Indeed, when he visited the Mitsubishi Museum to search for inspiration from earlier designs, he found only two cars - a 1959 Leo and 1960 500 - on which the three-diamond logo was large enough to be proportional to the size of the vehicle. He took those as his guide for future models.

Badge comes first

Now, "you put the badge first, respect the basic architecture of the badge and then design the vehicle," he said.

As shown on the four concept cars Mitsubishi unveiled last week, the badge is considerably more prominent. It not only is larger but the angles of the top diamond in the logo form the basis of a ridge leading up to the hood. In some cases, angles on the lower two diamonds set the angles for the two grilles to the side and even for the headlamps.

"Once you've done your work, if you take the badge away, you should recognize the car as a Mitsubishi," he said. Because of the more prominent logo, he said, it becomes possible to drop the large written name "Mitsubishi" from the rear of the car as well.

Inside, Boulay said, "The interiors express different life-

styles." To sell that idea, the female models with the different concept cars at Mitsubishi's stand at the Tokyo show wore different outfits to suggest lifestyles suited to each of the cars. Boulay said Mitsubishi was not abandoning its technical heritage. Mitsubishi's technology puts it "in the range of Honda, Subaru, Audi and BMW," he said. But it wants to incorporate its sporty heritage, as seen in its rally racing, as well.

The changes at Mitsubishi are more than cosmetic. Since DaimlerChrysler AG took a controlling 34 percent stake in the company last year, 60 percent of Mitsubishi's top managers have new assignments, and a management streamlining eliminated almost a quarter of the senior executive positions.


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You can reach James B. Treece at jtreece@crain.com

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