Many new products will launch Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America Inc. into the 400,000-unit realm in 2005, Executive Vice President Pierre Gagnon told dealers last week.
"It's bigger, better, more powerful. We're going to market this car, not distribute it. We're really going to get behind it. We're serious about this vehicle," Gagnon said. The Lancer will make its debut at the New York auto show in April.
The Lancer will help contribute to Mitsubishi's projected 5 percent sales growth from its 2000 mark of 314,417.
In fall 2002, Mitsubishi will launch a production version of the ASX concept that bowed at the Detroit auto show. Smaller than the Montero Sport, the Lancer-based ASX will compete against the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
Coming in spring 2003 will be the redesigned Montero Sport, which will shift from a Japan-built pickup platform to an Illinois-built car platform.
Dealers want pickups
Dealers also appealed to Mitsubishi to return to pickups, where it has been absent since the Mighty Max left the lineup in summer 1997. Gagnon also did not discount the possibility of a high-performance Lancer Evo 7 reaching the United States in a few years.
"New product always gets the adrenaline going," said Joe O'Brien, who owns five Mitsubishi stores in Illinois and Florida.
"(Former Mitsubishi chief) Dick Recchia used to promise 300,000 sales, and we'd never get there. Now they're promising 400,000, and the dealers think we can get there faster than the factory does," O'Brien said.
Despite the rosy product news, some dealers at the make meeting at the NADA convention expressed concern about how original the products will be, given Mitsubishi's equity link with DaimlerChrysler AG.
Said multifranchise dealer Ramsay Gillman of Houston: "They are adamant about sharing synergies but not having a badged vehicle. Maybe we'll share engines."
That assumes Mitsubishi is allowed to keep autonomy in the alliance, unlike the treatment the former Chrysler Corp. has received from Daimler. There are four DaimlerChrysler executives out of the 11 seats on the Mitsubishi Motors Corp. board.
New Mitsubishi Motors Corp. COO Rolf Eckrodt has assured Gagnon that he wants to protect Mitsubishi's brand, while sharing platform and r&d expenses.
But O'Brien, who also carries Chrysler and Dodge franchises, warily noted: "I remember (Chrysler's) Jim Holden saying, 'I'm the president.' And then, six months later, he's gone. The big difference is that both (Daimler and Mitsubishi) see the other's resources to get product out better and faster."
No one focus
Smaller issues also were raised. Joe Haughey, general manager of Fred Beans Mitsubishi in Doylestown, Pa., was worried that Mitsubishi was going to cut its co-op advertising contribution. But the automaker held the line at $100 per car, rather than cut it to $50 as had been feared.
Gagnon vowed Mitsubishi will be competitive in incentives as industry sales tighten, a daring promise given the $199 Rodeo lease ad blaring from the Isuzu make meeting next door.
"We've reduced our reliance on leasing from 30 percent to 20 percent, so we don't see a boomerang coming back," Gagnon said. "Consumers seem to be responding to our APR programs, but we also have lease deals and cash back. We're not going to focus all on one thing."