Dealer Pat Hoban, of Troncalli Mitsubishi in Decatur, Ga., is fed up with the inventory situation and reliance on the deal to move the metal.
"Mitsubishi did a good job of raising awareness of the youth market, but the youth market doesn't have any money," Hoban says.
Mitsubishi's median customer age is about the same age as that for Volkswagen, near 39 years old. That compares with the industry median of 49 years old.
While VW attracted the gold-plated young buyer automakers want, Mitsubishi mostly lured lower-quality shoppers looking for a deal, according to data from AutoPacific, a consulting firm in Tustin, Calif.
"They are buying the deal, not the car," says AutoPacific President George Peterson. "There's no passion for Mitsubishi. Mitsubishi needs to bring in people who want to buy the product."
The first change in Mitsubishi's marketing will be in an advertising relaunch of the Endeavor SUV. Though initial TV commercials showed the vehicle in a gritty urban setting against a throbbing bass line as background music, the new commercials will show the Endeavor in a family environment.
Gagnon says the automaker "never set out to be No. 1 in youth," despite an advertising campaign that skewed toward younger buyers.
"Attracting youthful customers is good, but you can also have a 60-year-old who is youthful," Gagnon says. "There's a fine line that any of us can get too youthful. We've had a strategy of 'spirited cars for spirited people.' That strategy is not going to change, but we're talking to all age groups now."
A major reason for the demographic change is to attract customers with better credit records or at least longer credit histories.
Mitsubishi led the industry with aggressive zero-down programs and deferred payment plans. But that attracted customers with lesser credit. The automaker was hungry enough for growth that it was willing to take a chance on lending money to these high-risk customers - a tactic that came back to bite Mitsubishi.
Mounting losses at Mitsubishi Motors Credit of America have forced the finance arm to curtail many of the programs that lured young buyers into showrooms while General Motors and others offer huge incentives. Mitsubishi executives declined to quantify the losses.
Gagnon says bad loans were spread across all age ranges but admits that many younger buyers had limited credit and were, therefore, a higher risk.
Adds dealer Hoban: "Mitsubishi opened the floodgates and bought bad paper. All their good dealers warned them that they were going down the wrong road, but those dealers got criticized for not being aggressive enough."
Says another dealer: "You had a pulse; you got a loan."
Because Mitsubishi bought higher-risk customer loans, it incurred higher cumulative loss rates. A cumulative loss rate is the lifetime dollar losses as a percentage of the total amount of the loan pool. Cumulative loss rates on some Mitsubishi asset-backed securities routinely topped
4 percent - double the loss rates at Honda and Toyota, according to Mitsubishi filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.