LOS ANGELES -- Mitsubishi dealers were relieved in August, the first month in nearly two years in which they enjoyed a year-to-year monthly sales increase.
But the elation was brief. Sales fell again in September.
Up and down -- that's life for Mitsubishi dealers.
After a devastating plunge, sales have stabilized. But sales today are only a bit more than one-third of what they were three years ago.
Dealers are less panicky than they have been in more than a year. The redesigned Eclipse is bringing customers into the showrooms, and Mitsubishi's captive credit company is providing more competitive loan rates.
But many dealers still are struggling to survive. Many are unhappy with what they see as an inadequate marketing budget and inconsistent advertising for the brand's nameplates.
"By no means are they (Mitsubishi) fine," says Mike Sullivan, who owns a Mitsubishi store in Santa Monica, Calif.
Sullivan's store is selling about 15 new vehicles a month, up from eight a month when he bought it in January. But Sullivan says he needs to sell at least 40 new vehicles a month to survive.
"Mitsubishi is a good little car," he says. "Not many warranty issues. And it has a good loyalty base even though it's small. And I like Dave Schembri," the automaker's new sales chief.
But Sullivan says the stores need better advertising budgets and better training for employees, who tend to jump to other franchises, such as Toyota and Honda.
"The only people you could attract to Mitsu stores were young kids or people new to the business," he says. "But another good thing I'm seeing is that I'm starting to attract experienced people" to the Mitsubishi store.