Mitsubishi opens up on future product

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NEW ORLEANS -- Mitsubishi laid out plans to reinvigorate its hobbled product line with exterior enhancements, additional powertrain options and a possible new mid-sized sedan.

Don Swearingen, Mitsubishi Motors North America executive vice president, told dealers at its make meeting on Monday that Mitsubishi Motors is negotiating with France's Renault SA to source a new Renault-based mid-sized sedan to be sold under the Mitsubishi brand in the United States. The sedan plan was initially disclosed in November, as part of the expanded alliance between Renault and Mitsubishi.

In an interview ahead of the meeting, Swearingen declined to comment on when the sedan may arrive, as negotiations with Renault were still in their early stages, but said the sedan was sorely needed to fill the void left by the canceled Galant sedan.

"We abandoned a huge market and we have to find a way to fill those customer's needs," Swearingen told Automotive News. "Many of those customers are coming back to market, and we tried to move them into our other offerings, but if they're looking for that D segment sedan, we just don't have it."

New products, fast

R.C. Hill, owner of RC Hill Mitsubishi in DeLand, Fla., and chairman of the franchise's national dealer advisory board, said dealers were told that the vehicle development project is moving forward quickly.

"The big takeaway from this meeting is just how fast new product and redesigns are coming now," Hill said outside the meeting. "That's a nice change."

A small sedan based on the Mirage is also under "strong study" for the U.S. market, Swearingen said. Other product updates include adding a 2.4-liter four cylinder engine to the Outlander Sport to complement the compact crossover's existing 2.0-liter engine, plus a new continuously variable transmission for the 2015 model year update.

A freshened Outlander also arrives later this year for the 2015 model year.

25% gain

Swearingen is targeting a 25 percent increase in retail sales in 2014, which would bring the brand to around 70,000 vehicles in 2014. Mitsubishi cut fleet sales to less than 10 percent of its total 2013 sales, but boosted retail sales by 5 percent in the first half and by 21 percent in the second half of last year.

Stacey Gillman Wimbish, CEO of Gillman Cos. auto group in Houston, said the dealer reaction to Mitsubishi's product details was very positive.

"For dealers, new products never come fast enough," she said. "But Mitsubishi did a good job of showing us that they are committed to delivering product and change and answers."

You can reach Lindsay Chappell at lchappell@crain.com.


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