Will Mitsubishi's new small car be just a Mirage in U.S.?

At 146.1 inches long and 65.6 inches wide, the Mirage that launched in Thailand last month is similar in size to the Chevrolet Spark due out this summer.

LOS ANGELES -- Mitsubishi product planners are on the fence about whether to bring its new Mirage small car stateside.

Mitsubishi will launch the Mirage, a new minicar reprising a nameplate unseen in the states since 2002, in the North American market in the first quarter of 2013, according to the automaker's annual earnings presentation released on Friday.

The car will be sold in Canada, but U.S. sales are still "under consideration" at headquarters in Cypress, Calif., Mitsubishi spokesman Roger Yasukawa said Friday.

"It's still 50-50 right now," he said.

So why would Mitsubishi, whose dealers are starving for new product after the Eclipse, Spyder and Endeavor were killed last year, not bring out something fresh?

Marketing budgets, for one. A redesigned Outlander mid-sized crossover is due out next summer. Launching the vehicles too close together might stretch an already tight budget too thin.

"Our concern from a timing standpoint is that with the Outlander coming out next year, not too far from a possible launch of the [Mirage], we have to really think about resources," Yasukawa said.

Another issue could be the product itself.

The Mirage is built to be affordable, efficient basic transportation for the masses designed to help Mitsubishi grow in the developing economies of Southeast Asia. It's being assembled in Thailand.

It's also really small. At 146.1 inches long and 65.6 inches wide, the Mirage that launched in Thailand last month is similar in size to the Chevrolet Spark due out this summer. It's also more than a foot shorter than the Kia Rio and Ford Fiesta subcompacts in five-door configurations.

Depending on the market, the Mirage will be powered by either a 1.0- or 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine, with a continuously variable transmission directing power to its 14-inch wheels.

The Mirage's segment is just beginning to emerge in the U.S. market, too.

"There are competitors out there that are still new and most of them have just launched or are coming out soon." Yasukawa said. "It's still a young segment that's growing in the U.S., and we have to account for that in our decision."

And then there's the price. The Mirage will have to be affordable, if not downright cheap, for U.S. buyers to consider it in any kind of reasonable volume. But price it too low, and dealers could struggle to make a decent gross.

Regardless, we'll have to wait to know for sure whether a new Mirage will be more than an illusion.

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