Mitsubishi Motors North America will change the way it spends advertising funds to allow for the introduction of four products this calendar year.
Mitsubishi's factory advertising has covered new products and existing models. But starting with the arrival of the Endeavor sport wagon, Lancer Evolution rally car, Lancer wagon and redesigned Galant, Mitsubishi will market only the new cars.
Mitsubishi will rely on its dealer marketing associations to keep consumer interest simmering in older products such as the Montero and Eclipse, Greg O'Neill, Mitsubishi Motors North America sales chief, told dealers at the make meeting. Funding for the dealer association ads is one-third from Mitsubishi, two-thirds from dealers.
Dealer council chairman Don Herring, who has two Mitsubishi stores near Plano, Texas, predicted "the biggest advertising commitment from Mitsubishi this year."
O'Neill said advertising expenses would rise 10 percent over 2002. Despite the product proliferation, Mitsubishi has the backing of the parent company to spend the appropriate funds to get all four introductions off the ground, he added.
Although sparing details, O'Neill said the new Galant will be "bigger, sexier, with a compelling interior ... the current one is good inside, but you can do so much more."
The four additions to the lineup don't include incremental changes to other lines as well.
Mitsubishi told dealers about a performance upgrade to the Lancer that will fit between the OZ Rally edition and the Evolution. The vehicle, with modifications by Ralliart, will include Mitsubishi's 2.4-liter MIVEC engine and suspension upgrades, O'Neill said. It too will arrive in 2003.
A reskinned version of the Diamante also comes for the 2004 model year, with a family resemblance in the front fascia as well as more luxury touches.
Mitsubishi is working on retaining owners by waiving payments with three months remaining on a loan.
O'Neill said many Eclipse buyers left the franchise for an SUV. But with the SUV lineup expanded from two to four - with the addition of the Outlander and Endeavor - Mitsubishi has a better shot at keeping owners loyal.
That's a departure from the mid-1990s, when Mitsubishi's product lineup grew, but the marketing funds slowed to a trickle once the launches were complete.
But the new-era Mitsubishi is a different animal, said Ramsay Gillman, a multifranchise Houston dealer.
"Mitsubishi is looking like Honda was years ago," Gillman said. "It's becoming a main stream of income for dealers, not just an also-ran franchise."