TOKYO -- Mitsubishi may take the engineering lead on a line of light commercial vehicles to be sold under both the Mitsubishi and Mercedes-Benz truck brands.
Mitsubishi has never taken responsibility for engineering a Mercedes-Benz brand vehicle before. It shows how Mercedes-Benz parent DaimlerChrysler and Mitsubishi continue to seek ways to expand their cooperation in commercial vehicles. DaimlerChrysler owns 37.3 percent of Mitsubishi.
In addition, the two companies have begun laying out conditions under which Freightliner dealers in North America would sell Mitsubishi Fuso trucks. Freightliner is DaimlerChrysler's US truck unit.
Such a sales arrangement has not yet received final approval. But both sides have agreed that the same vehicle would not be sold under the same badge at two dealerships within a 16km radius, said Takashi Usami, chief operating officer for Mitsubishi Fuso Truck & Bus, the commercial vehicle side of Mitsubishi Motors.
Mitsubishi would like to add its Fuso-badged trucks to Freightliner's more numerous outlets in the USA to expand sales. The preliminary agreement apparently means that where there is a Fuso dealer, a Freightliner store within 16km could not sell Fuso-brand trucks.
Unveiling a completely redesigned version of the Canter, Usami said that talks with DaimlerChrysler "are proceeding in the direction" of having Mitsubishi's Canter become the basis of the Mercedes-Benz Vario replacement. Both are urban delivery trucks, offered as panel vans or flatbed trucks.
The overlap in those vehicles comes mainly in the Japanese, European, and Asian markets. In the USA, "the Ford pickup is the [Canter's] competitor," Usami said.
One difficulty in coordinating engineering of the two vehicles is their different product cycle. The latest Canter was just re-engineered for the first time in almost nine years. An eight- or nine-year life cycle is typical for that segment. The Vario was last completely redesigned in 1996.
"If there's a four-year difference in model cycles, it's very difficult to adjust and close the gap," Usami said. Sharing key components would be done more easily.
If the two sides agree to coordinate their products, Mitsubishi would be the logical choice to lead engineering because of its higher volumes. Mitsubishi is targeting sales of 3,700 Canters a month, or 44,000 a year. Sales of the Vario in recent years are fewer than 20,000 a year.