The 2001 Mitsubishi Montero, which will reach dealers in March, will be priced near $36,000 for a top-of-the-line model, said dealer Joe O'Brien, president of the O'Brien Automotive Team, in Normal, Ill.
'The new Montero is going to come in much more competitively than it has in the past,' O'Brien said after the make meeting at the NADA convention. 'That puts us in a great position.'
A current well-equipped Montero costs closer to $40,000, a price similar to such popular models as the Ford Expedition and the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Mitsubishi is counting on the Montero and the mid-sized Montero Sport, along with its top-selling model, the Galant, to boost sales to 280,000 units in 2000, said Pierre Gagnon, chief operating officer of Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America Inc.
The company sold 261,254 units in 1999, up 37 percent from the preceding year. That strong showing helped boost the overall mood of the meeting. Executives also told dealers that the Eclipse Spyder would be on lots in March and that a new Mirage will be introduced in summer 2001.
Also on the horizon is a mini sport-utility, to compete with the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4.
'We're down to the final (five or six) concepts now, whether we want it more car based or more truck based,' Gagnon said during an interview after the meeting. 'I would say this calendar year we're going to make a decision on the direction we want to go.'
Mitsubishi expects North American light-vehicle sales to remain strong this year, with an industry volume of about 16.5 million, Gagnon said. He thinks Mitsubishi's market share will climb to 1.7 percent, from 1.5 percent in 1999.
The company and its 164 dealer advertising agencies around the country also have tripled ad spending over the past three years, to an estimated $164 million in 2000, Gagnon said.
As part of the sales push, Mitsubishi also will continue its 0-0-0 incentive program, under which consumers make no down payment, pay no interest and make no payments during 2000, running through the end of February, Gagnon said. The plan, launched with the introduction of the 2000 models as a year-end blowout, was slated to wrap up by the end of 1999. But successful sales figures, combined with lower-than-expected costs, have prompted the company to continue the program, Gagnon said.
'Our overall incentive costs are down from last year by 20 percent,' he said. That's mostly due to Mitsubishi moving away from costly leases and toward more manageable retail incentives.
The 0-0-0 program is more than an incentive program; it is a marketing and event strategy, Gagnon said. 'It drives traffic, and it allows all of our dealers to focus on one rallying cry.'