LOS ANGELES - Beginning with the 2002 Lancer subcompact this fall, Mitsubishi vehicles introduced in North America no longer will carry the Mitsubishi name - the only badge will be the company's three-diamond logo on the front and rear fascias.
The transition will occur as each vehicle goes through a model redesign. In 2002, the only vehicle without the company name on its rear fascia will be the Lancer entry-level sedan. But with at least one vehicle change every 12 months for the foreseeable future, the rollout of unlabeled vehicles will happen quickly.
'Aesthetically, it's a long, cluttered name with a lot of vowels. Doing this frees up real estate on the back,' said Michael Krebs, Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America Inc.'s director of product strategy.
'There was some hesitancy because the guy on street may ask, `Hey what is that?' But our research on our badge's awareness levels says the guy knows the three diamonds are Mitsubishi.'
The three-diamond logo, now in red paint, will change to a reflective faux-chrome and will become bigger, he said. Those changes will be made on all vehicles starting this fall.
'We have been pushing for a couple years to go to something more updated, cleaner and techie,' Krebs said. He added that the chrome goes with all colors in the Mitsubishi lineup, while red didn't match some colors.
The possibility of dropping the company name has been studied in clinics since 1995, Krebs said. He said the decision was not prompted by the spate of bad press involving Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and other Mitsubishi group companies over the past several years.
Tom Healey, partner with J.D. Power and Associates in Agoura Hills, Calif., gives credit to Mitsubishi for trying to build its logo into a powerhouse symbol as important as the brand name itself, similar to Nike's.
'There is that active identification. They can do it with dignity if the badge is on a household item. But until people make the association between the badge and the name, it's risky,' Healey said.
Of course, product should still be king, Healey said: 'The cars should be distinctive enough that you don't need a label at all.'