High-flying Subaru has been outperforming the U.S. market for the past two years. But overall, Japan's smaller carmakers have had a tough time in the United States for much of the past decade. Getting the right products at the right time has been a struggle.
Mazda and Subaru have been filling out their product lines, but at Mitsubishi and Suzuki, there seem to be more questions than answers.
The Forester and Outback have led the charge for Subaru. Now the Japanese brand plans to add in late 2011 or early 2012 a sporty coupe developed with Toyota.
Meanwhile, Subaru is concentrating on increasing interior space and adding features as its updates the rest of its lineup.
Mazda Motor Corp. is beginning a new era, developing vehicles and powertrains more independently of Ford Motor Co. After launching the Mazda2 small car this summer, Mazda now has an entry in most major segments.
Mazda also has a clear powertrain strategy, which it will begin to roll out with the fuel-efficient Sky gasoline direct-injection engine next year and a Sky turbodiesel in 2012.
Mitsubishi is pursuing a new product strategy centered on building small cars and electric vehicles that can be sold globally.
But a big question hovers over the company: What will Mitsubishi build at its assembly plant in Normal, Ill., which now produces the Galant, Eclipse and Endeavor, all based on the aging PS platform? Mitsubishi Motors Corp. President Osamu Masuko has said the company will announce by year end what will be built at the plant.
There is also uncertainty at American Suzuki Motor Corp., which has seen sales drop 52 percent this year after a 54 percent decline in 2009.
Suzuki's Swift small car, which had been expected to arrive in the United States this year, won't debut until some time in 2011.
Automotive News will continue its report on the product plans of Japanese carmakers in the Sept. 27 issue, with news about Toyota, Lexus, Scion, Honda, Acura, Nissan and Infiniti.