Mitsubishi wants more product input from its dealers.
Last fall, the company began inviting small groups of its retailers to its Normal, Ill., plant. Now, Mitsubishi wants to bring in 10 to 15 dealers once a quarter to observe assembly, test drive vehicles and recommend product enhancements.
The company's actions are part of a plan to strengthen ties with its dealers, says Don Swearingen, executive vice president of Mitsubishi Motors North America.
"It lets them see what we're doing and see what our level of commitment is to the North American market," Swearingen says. "But it also helps us by getting their direct feedback on product."
Each visit will include a meeting with Gayu Uesugi, chairman of Mitsubishi Motors North America.
"The chairman wants to hear firsthand what they think," Swearingen says. "He can make things happen quickly."
Swearingen said dealer feedback from the first visits have resulted in more torque and a quieter engine for the Outlander Sport.
Mitsubishi's Illinois plant is an oversized footprint of its past U.S. ambitions. The factory was built to produce 240,000 vehicles a year, but now has capacity of 120,000. The brand sold 62,227 vehicles in the United States last year.
The factory produced 67,362 Outlander Sports in 2013, including units for Canada and several overseas markets. U.S. retailers sold fewer than 25,000 of them.
"I like the idea of visiting the factory," says Lloyd Guillot Jr., whose Rainbow Automotive Group owns two Mitsubishi stores near New Orleans, in addition to Detroit 3 stores in Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. "We used to be an Oldsmobile dealer, and Oldsmobile used to bring the dealers into the plant like that. It really gives you a feeling for what the manufacturer is doing. It builds belief."