LOS ANGELES - Despite a sharp drop in Montero sales after a report in the influential Consumer Reports magazine rated the sport-utility 'not acceptable,' Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America Inc. will not put big incentives or special marketing emphasis on it to spur demand.
The article, published June 20, cited the Montero Limited for tipping up on two wheels during evasive-maneuver testing and recommended against purchasing it. None of the other six vehicles in the test panel failed. Even though the report came late in the month, Montero sales skidded 58.5 percent to 1,279 units in June. Sales of the Montero Sport, which is built on a different platform and was not cited in the Consumer Reports article, skidded 38.2 percent.
Overall, Mitsubishi sales slipped 26.7 percent in June, dropping its sales rate for the year into the negative column.
'Any bad news has an effect. For those first five or six days, we were focused on reassuring our customers, and that took the momentum out of the sales side,' said Pierre Gagnon, president of Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America.
Sales are recovering
Gagnon said there will be no additional emphasis put on the Montero or Montero Sport as a result of the article. He said the company will have a better idea of the damage after 90 days.
Gagnon noted that Mitsubishi expected a soft June because the year-earlier month was the automaker's best month ever for the two sport-utilities. He said sales in July are recovering, and the automaker hit its 10-day objective.
'We had already projected selling fewer Monteros because last year it was a brand-new vehicle and the industry was a little different,' Gagnon said. 'Now the SUV market is extremely competitive and incentive-driven.'
Mitsubishi now has incentive programs across the 2001 model line, including a revival of the successful 'zero-zero-zero' plan, which calls for zero down payment, zero payments and zero interest until 2002. Also available are 0 percent APR deals for 36-month purchases.
But those plans were in place for months as part of Mitsubishi's summer clearance sale, the company said.
Last year Mitsubishi sold 21,578 Monteros, blasting past its 15,000-unit annual target. Through June, Mitsubishi has sold 10,083.
Gagnon said Mitsubishi has no plans to sue Consumer Reports. He noted that Consumers Union, the magazine's publisher, gave Mitsubishi a heads-up before the article ran, giving the company time to have public relations damage control in place as the report hit the street.
One Mitsubishi dealer acknowledged that Montero traffic had dropped but was bouncing back.
'It's been a disruption in our business, but I don't think it will hurt Mitsubishi to the magnitude that (similar articles) hurt other car companies,' said Joe O'Brien, a multifranchise dealer with six Mitsubishi stores in Illinois and Florida.
'It's not like we have no one looking at this vehicle. We feel we can handle this.'