LOS ANGELES - Marketing chief Dave Schembri's departure from Mitsubishi came just days after a tense meeting in Orlando, Fla., at which dealers complained about the company's weak advertising and incentives programs.
Dealers are worried that Mitsubishi, which operates on a fiscal year ending March 31, is low on money to spend on its U.S. advertising until the new fiscal year starts. At the make meeting at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention, Mitsubishi executives told dealers that a major announcement would be made on March 21.
"We're all being told, 'Wait for the fiscal year.' But they need to sit down and talk with us, not string us along month after month," said Dan Georger, a 15-year Mitsubishi dealer in Williamsville, N.Y.
Spokesman Dan Irvin says that Mitsubishi is committed to its dealers' success, but acknowledged that competitors' incentives have made it "hell out there."
"The general overall strategy has been to focus on product launches," Irvin says. "But in February, we also launched as aggressive a dealer co-op program as anyone has ever seen. Our incentives are very aggressive."
Schembri, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Mitsubishi Motors North America, and Wayne Killen, the vice president of marketing, resigned on Feb. 17. Neither executive could be reached for comment.
In a release, Mitsubishi said both executives left to pursue other opportunities. But the day before he resigned, Schembri conducted a conference call to let dealers know about a cable-advertising buy that was in the works.
Irvin said it has not been determined whether the vacant positions will be filled. For now, co-CEO Hiroshi Harunari, who also is head of Mitsubishi's overseas operations, will handle the work.
Mitsubishi dealers are suffering even though sales may have reached their lowest point.
Mitsubishi sales in 2005 were off 23.3 percent to 123,995 units. In the fourth quarter of 2005, though, sales were down only 2.6 percent from the same period of 2004.
The redesigned Eclipse had a strong summer, but sales have fallen well below targeted volumes since the initial advertising campaign ended.
The new Raider pickup, which arrived in September, also is performing poorly.
"The Eclipse launch was pretty successful and drove some traffic," said Don Herring, who owns three Mitsubishi stores near Dallas. "But we just haven't been that consistent on the air. We haven't had a lot of advertising for the last several months."
Said Georger: "They have no incentives to talk about and no advertising. The Galant has a lease program in just five cities. But where I am, the best I can do with Galant is $350 a month, and the Honda Accord is $250 a month. Customers walk right out the door."