TOKYO - The trouble at Mitsubishi Motors Corp. has thrown the company's product plans into disarray and left U.S. dealers in the dark about what new models to expect.
Several products under development have been reviewed, revised, canceled, reconsidered or in some cases reinstated. So the pipeline is almost empty, just when Mitsubishi desperately needs to boost sales and revenues.
Mitsubishi's entire future product strategy is not up in the air. And plans to use Mitsubishi's redesigned Lancer platform for the next-generation Dodge Neon and Stratus and Chrysler Sebring and PT Cruiser will continue.
But some key Mitsubishi products have been held hostage to the management turmoil. The company hasn't figured out what to do with the Montero, for example, and U.S. Mitsubishi dealers may miss out on a replacement for the full-sized SUV.
It is a brand icon, a multiple winner of the Paris-Dakar rally and known in Japan and Europe as the Pajero. Several Mitsubishi presidents have cited it as the epitome of Mitsubishi engineering.
But the icon is fading. Sales are down, and Mitsubishi has not figured out what will replace the seven-passenger Montero in Mitsubishi's U.S. lineup after 2006 or 2007.
The questions hanging over the Montero reflect a broader product uncertainty at Mitsubishi. The problem intensified when DaimlerChrysler AG executive Andreas Renschler and a group of about 30 German managers landed in Tokyo in March.
Renschler and his team came to put together a turnaround strategy for Mitsubishi, which at the time was owned 37 percent by DaimlerChrysler. Renschler and his colleagues launched an extensive review of Mitsubishi's product plans and didn't like much of what they found.
Mercedes-Benz design chief Peter Pfeiffer arrived soon after to lead a design review of all future Mitsubishi models - without having been briefed on the Japanese market and how the planned models fit in that market.
Mitsubishi chief designer Olivier Boulay was out of town at the time, so the visitors "had no context for what they were seeing," says a Mitsubishi source.
The Germans were not impressed. They soon began tweaking designs, narrowing a grille here and shifting an A-pillar there.
Boulay, the Frenchman who took over Mitsubishi design in April 2001, returned to town two weeks later. He led Pfeiffer and his group through another review of the future product plans and designs, this time with a full explanation of the whys and wherefores of each model. Pfeiffer listened and gave his stamp of approval to Boulay's work.
Thus, within a three-week span, Mitsubishi's future designs went from approved to rejected and redrawn to re-approved.