An adventurous crossover vehicle is the first new model to emerge from Mitsubishi in Europe under DaimlerChrysler management.
The Mitsubishi Outlander will not be a volume vehicle in Europe, but it fills a niche. With permanent four-wheel drive (or two-wheel drive on entry-level versions), the Outlander features off-road capabilities combined with a more practical station wagon body style.
The definition of crossover concepts is vague. They are considered sport-utilities, but with a focus on the aesthetics of all-road vehicles rather than their all-terrain, four-wheel-drive capabilities.
The Outlander was designed in Mitsubishi's US design studio in Cypress, California. It will be produced in Japan and shipped to Europe. Sales begin this spring.
"We want to emphasize a combination of sportiness and adventure," said Stefan Jacoby, president and CEO of Mitsubishi Motors Europe.
Willem Verschuur, general manager SUV/MPV and pickup group sales and marketing Mitsubishi Motor Sales Europe, said the company aims to sell 8,000 Outlanders in Europe this year, and 15,000 to 17,000 units by 2004.
The Outlander comes with a choice of three gasoline engines, including turbo engine with more than 200hp, derived from Mitsubishi's World Rally Championship Lancer EVO model. But the new model won't get a diesel.
It's a drawback the company admits may hurt sales in some diesel-oriented countries. But, said Thomas Weigand, vice president marketing management at Mitsubishi Europe: "When we decided to bring Outlander to Europe, development of the model was already too far gone. At that late stage, we could not fit a diesel anymore."
The timing of the Outlander's arrival in Europe should let it capitalize on the popularity of sport-utilities. "We expect a steady growth [in SUVs] of between 5 and 10 percent each coming year," said Verschuur.
BMW will soon launch a compact X3 SUV. Volvo plans a four-wheel-drive XC50 for 2005. Renault is working on a version of Nissan's X-trail crossover vehicle, and Alfa Romeo's SUV is scheduled for 2006. Volkswagen is also considering a medium-size SUV.