LAS VEGAS -- New products were the stars of the Mitsubishi dealer meeting here last week. But in Vegas, entertainment comes first.
The gig started with a live version of the current commercial for the redesigned Eclipse. Drummers hammered out Japanese rhythms on huge Kodo drums.
It was like being at a dance club. Even Takashi Nishioka, chairman of Mitsubishi Motors Corp., was pumped.
He said he last was in Vegas 40 years ago. He wanted to see the town again, he said, but, "I also wanted to come because maybe I can win some of my money back."
Clearly in charge of the event was Rich Gilligan, the steady, silver-haired CEO of Mitsubishi Motors North America. Gilligan, a manufacturing expert, told the crowd that he turned around the company plant in Normal, Ill., and he would not settle for less for the entire company.
He unveiled what the dealers had been waiting for: new products.
Gilligan gave them their first peek at the redesigned Outlander SUV, which will go on sale late next year as a 2007 model. In addition to a more powerful engine and an upgraded transmission, the Outlander will get a Mitsubishi first in this country: a touch-screen navigation system.
The redesigned Eclipse Spyder generated more buzz in the room. It goes on sale next spring.
With new products and better advertising on display, the dealer meeting was a much-needed morale booster for the beleaguered brand. Mitsubishi sales in the United States continue to fall. They were down 38.4 percent this year through May.
On the second day, the dealers saw the new Raider pickup and Lancer Evolution 9. Both go on sale this fall.
The Raider will be the first Mitsubishi in this country with satellite radio.
"Our No. 1 priority is dealer profitability," Gilligan said. "And we're going to help make that happen with new product."
The Las Vegas meeting was a far cry from last year's gathering in New Orleans, when many dealers wondered if the company would survive.
"Last year the dealers were just hoping to make it another year," said Tom Croxton, president of Huntington Beach (Calif.) Mitsubishi. "We saw some product in New Orleans, but it was a ways away. Now we're seeing the actual product, and I see the dealers becoming engaged again."