QUEBEC CITY -- Mitsubishi's U.S. dealers, desperate for compelling new product to reinvigorate the brand, will instead be getting the Mirage, a pint-sized, Thailand-built economy car engineered for the developing world.
It's a sign of how the U.S. market has become a backwater for Mitsubishi, one that seems to have little influence in the company's global strategy and product portfolio.
And why should it?
North America is by far Mitsubishi's smallest market. In the United States, Mitsubishi expects to sell just 64,000 vehicles in its fiscal year ending next March, up from 57,000 the previous year. By contrast, Mitsubishi sold 357,000 vehicles in Southeast and Northern Asia in its last fiscal year, accounting for 36 percent of its global sales.
The last time Mitsubishi saw such volumes in the United States was in the 2002 calendar year, when its 345,111 units represented 2 percent of the market.
But while U.S. sales and profitability have suffered over the past few years -- Mitsubishi has posted operating losses in North America every year since 2007 -- the company isn't about to walk away. With a factory and roughly 400 dealers here, Mitsubishi is entrenched in the United States. And a top Mitsubishi executive vows that the automaker is working on a revamped U.S. product plan to lift the brand out of its rut.
In a recent address to a dealer gathering in Chicago, Mitsubishi Motors Corp. President Osamu Masuko "reinforced that we're not going to pull out from the U.S. market, first of all, and that there will be a product plan to be rolled out pretty soon," said Masatoshi Hasegawa, executive vice president of corporate strategy for Mitsubishi Motors North America. "It's a sign of real re-engagement, productwise, on the U.S. market as well. You don't see it yet, but products are in the pipeline."
Hasegawa added: "A lot of things will start happening around 2015. Right now, we're in a transitional period."