TOKYO — Mitsubishi's official news at the Tokyo Motor Show may have been an electric crossover concept, but the true star of its show appearance was the brand itself.
In the wake of Mitsubishi's recent envelopment into the Renault-Nissan Alliance, executives were keen to outline the impact having a deep-pocketed benefactor would have on its long-starved product pipeline.
This includes the addition of 11 new or redesigned models globally by 2020 — including two pure electric vehicles — and by 2022, the arrival of four shared platforms and the introduction of Level 5, or fully self-driving, autonomous vehicles.
But executives made clear that in order for the brand to achieve its ambitious target of 30 percent growth in the U.S. by 2020, it would need a high level of dealer engagement and improved fundamentals at the retail level. Mitsubishi sold 96,267 vehicles in the U.S. in 2016; sales are up 6.5 percent through September.
Global executives concede that some of the dealer disengagement over recent years has been due to a dearth of new products and the shuttering of Mitsubishi's only U.S. plant in 2016, which eroded confidence in Mitsubishi's commitment to the U.S. market.
The hope now is that the new alliance — formalized a year ago when Nissan took a 34 percent controlling stake in Mitsubishi — and the impending arrival of the Eclipse Cross and Outlander plug-in hybrid will help restore their faith.
"I think the dealers will think, 'Oh there is no uncertainty in the future of MMC, no concern,'" Osamu Masuko, CEO of Mitsubishi Motors, told Automotive News through an interpreter on the sidelines of the show. "The commitment towards the U.S. is clear, so let's do business with Mitsubishi."
But Mitsubishi is also counting on its U.S. dealers to step up their performance in preparation for the new product.
"If we said this is a new car and what this new car is standing on — in terms of the brand, the network, our sales excellence, our service excellence — is weak, and I give you a new car, we'll fail," Trevor Mann, COO of Mitsubishi Motors, told journalists at the show.
Between the new product and better dealer performance, Mann was cautiously optimistic that Mitsubishi could hit its three-year target of 30 percent U.S. sales growth, even as the U.S. new-vehicle market declines.
"I am not going to walk away from that [goal] even though we are seeing signs of the industry weakening," Mann said. "I think our opportunities are bigger than our risks."
The Outlander PHEV and the Eclipse Cross — a compact, coupe-like four-door crossover due early next year — will need to largely sustain dealers until the end of the decade when replacements for the larger Outlander and smaller Outlander Sport arrive.
The next-generation Outlander will use a common platform from the Nissan alliance when it arrives in 2020; like its predecessor, the new model will have a plug-in hybrid iteration. A dedicated EV model will also arrive for the U.S. market.
Lack of new product has also led to an erosion of brand awareness. To combat this, Mitsubishi used the Tokyo show to introduce a new marketing tag line, "Drive your ambition," which it will use worldwide effective immediately.
It's also recycling storied vehicle names from its past such as Eclipse and Evolution (the Tokyo concept is called e-Evolution), said Guillaume Cartier, Mitsubishi's global vice president for sales and marketing, on the sidelines of the show.
"The problem we have is not an opinion problem, it's an awareness problem," Cartier said. "If people are aware, they have a good opinion."