Mitsubishi to end Lancer Evolution production, another potential setback for U.S. dealers

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TOKYO -- Mitsubishi Motors Corp. will pull the plug on the Lancer Evolution, the brand’s all-wheel-drive performance sedan, at the end of the nameplate’s current generation.

The move, which eliminates the company’s last sporty offering in the United States, comes as Mitsubishi shifts its global lineup toward utility vehicles and electrified cars.

A spokeswoman would not say when Mitsubishi would stop building the Lancer-based car, but it won’t introduce a successor to the current generation, which is in its 10th iteration. The Evolution nameplate debuted in 1992; the latest version arrived in 2007.

Mitsubishi did not say whether it was planning another vehicle to plug the performance-car gap. But it left the door open for a spiritual successor powered at least partly by batteries.

“Mitsubishi Motors does not have any plans to design a successor with the current concept, as a high-performance four-wheel drive gasoline-powered sedan,” spokeswoman Namie Koketsu said, describing the car as having “icon” status. “Mitsubishi Motors will explore the possibilities of high-performance models that incorporate electric vehicle technology.”

Dropping the Evolution was foreshadowed last fall when President Osamu Masuko unveiled a new mid-term business plan that would deprioritize in-house sedans and explore sourcing them through joint projects with the Renault-Nissan Alliance.

He said Mitsubishi’s strength lies in pickups, crossovers and SUVs. He was noncommittal about the Evolution and said the company had to go “back to basics” and follow volume cars.

“We have to prioritize,” Masuko told Automotive News in a December interview. “When you consider Mitsubishi's size and management resources, we can't do everything on our own.”

The loss of the Evolution shrinks an already small lineup for U.S. dealers, who battle a dearth of fresh offerings, especially in the sedan segment. It also marks a departure for Mitsubishi, which once built a reputation as a purveyor of tech-savvy performance cars such as the Evolution, Eclipse and 3000GT.

Mitsubishi, riding record profits after years of losses, aims to lift global sales 29 percent to 1.43 million vehicles in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017, from the 1.11 million it expects to have sold in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2014.

Over that period, Mitsubishi plans to launch a raft of new or refreshed global SUVs, vans and crossovers. Mitsubishi will trim two vehicle platforms from its nine-platform lineup, and reduce its product portfolio to 13 models from 18.

In sedans, Mitsubishi aims to farm out assembly to other companies so it can focus its r&d budget on utility vehicles and electrified drivetrains. Part of that plan entails selling a Renault-based mid-sized car in the United States. The car will be the first of two Renault-based sedans sold by Mitsubishi under the product and technology exchange.

The company will also push electrified drivetrains in a bid to make 20 percent of its vehicle output either all-electric or plug-in hybrid by 2020.

You can reach Hans Greimel at hgreimel@crain.com. -- Follow Hans on Twitter


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