Dave Cantin, vice president of Brad Benson Mitsubishi and Brad Benson Hyundai in South Brunswick, N.J., sees what Mitsubishi is up against every day. The Hyundai dealership he runs sells 500 to 600 new Hyundais every month, while his Mitsubishi store next door sells closer to 50.
"We treat it as if it's the same, but there's just fewer customers coming through the door," Cantin says of his Mitsubishi store. "There's less awareness of the cars, there's fewer models to choose from, there's less marketing, incentives, advertising -- all around, it's just less."
The focus on global vehicles has yet to yield a replacement for the Galant, leaving Mitsubishi's lineup with a gaping hole where a mid-sized car ought to be. A replacement could be in the works, as Mitsubishi executives have said they want to field another entry in the segment, and possibly revive the Montero SUV, though no firm plans have been set.
The upcoming Mirage will stretch out the offerings on the small end, but it's smaller than competing U.S.-market subcompacts and was tailored more for emerging markets, like Thailand, where the vehicle is thriving.
A replacement for the dated Lancer compact sedan isn't scheduled until 2015. And the opening salvo of Mitsubishi's planned EV offensive, the i-MiEV, which went on sale in 2011, has been a dud.
One cylinder firing for Mitsubishi is the Lancer Evolution, a compact sedan rendered as an all-wheel-drive, turbocharged, high-performance street machine. The model, which debuted in the United States in 2003, costs twice as much as the base Lancer and enjoys a passionate following among young men.
But KBB's Gutierrez says such a niche product isn't enough.
"The Evo is fantastic, but it's not going to carry a brand," he says.
Gutierrez says that Mitsubishi's volume vehicles appeal most to value-conscious shoppers who are drawn to the Outlander Sport and Lancer, vehicles that tend to be the lowest-priced options in their segments.
"They need to do a better job of getting away from that value-priced image that they have today, because consumers are looking for content and features more, even in the more affordable segments," Gutierrez said.
Mitsubishi's Harsini says the brand wants to rebuild its image in the eyes of consumers around "progressive technology, spirited design and QDR" -- quality, durability and reliability.
A nine-month brand audit conducted last year by Mitsubishi's agency, 180 L.A., turned up bad news and good news. Consumer awareness of the brand was low, but among consumers who did know the brand, it was associated with vehicles that were well built and fun to drive. "There's no negative baggage," Harsini says.
And yet Mitsubishi had at one time begun stripping its brand name from some vehicles, leaving only the model name and the company's triple-diamond logo.
Now the Mitsubishi badge is back on the new Outlander, and voiceovers will say "Mitsubishi Outlander" in the launch ads.
"The primary objective for us is that we have to marry the Mitsubishi brand to the model," she said. "That connection has to be stronger."
Mitsubishi dealer Cantin is optimistic about the Outlander's potential, but says it will take more to boost his store's volume significantly.
"Their strategy and campaign can get them back in the market," Cantin says. "But they can't put all their eggs in one basket. They have to have a next car to follow, and another and another."