Mitsubishi Motors North America’s sales have been a roller coaster ride this century. Now things are again looking up for the Japanese brand, with five consecutive years of U.S. sales growth in the books and the sale of a 34 percent stake in parent Mitsubishi Motors Corp. to Nissan Motor Co., which promises financial stability for the three-diamond brand. With more than 2 million vehicles in operation on American roads, the company is preparing to improve its fixed operations in anticipation of continued growth.
Mark Chaffin, 49, vice president of fixed operations, service and product support for Mitsubishi Motors North America, spoke with Staff Reporter Richard Truett.
Q: Mitsubishi’s units in operation have increased for five consecutive years. How is this impacting fixed operations?
A: It’s a great place to be — finally. We are certainly on a path of continued growth. However, we really need to be proactive at preparing for potential capacity constraints in the future. That’s what we are taking a deep look at now with our dealer body.
I think you’ll see us enhance our [parts] distribution in the near future.
As sales fell from a peak of 345,111 in 2002 to 53,986 in 2009, did Mitsubishi reduce its parts warehousing capacity?
In 2009 we did close a Texas warehouse.
Can the alliance with Nissan help?
Nissan’s distribution footprint in the United States is significantly bigger than ours. But we are operating as competing brands and we have unique policies and procedures that make it somewhat difficult to share distribution. But we are still looking at all options under the alliance to find those synergies that will give us a positive impact for both our dealers and customers. We are looking at everything.
We are first trying small enhancements and improvements as we leverage and grow that new relationship. But I can say that alliance with Nissan-Renault will open up a lot of doors for Mitsubishi, from joint sourcing to sharing advanced technology tools. We will be bringing a lot of new programs to our dealers in 2018.
What were some lessons learned from Mitsubishi’s full-electric i-MiEV?
The first thing we tried to do to get out in front of that was to get really prepared on the tech side. We made sure our technicians were fully trained on working on high-voltage systems. One of the things that surprised us was there are a large number of customers who traveled a great distance to purchase an i-MiEV from a dealer. In some cases, those customers lived outside the range of a single charge. So, one of the lessons learned is that we had to be prepared in some cases to offer mobile service or provide alternative methods to support those customers who lived outside the range of the i-MiEV.
Is it Mitsubishi’s experience that there are fewer customer-pay dollars from EVs because they require less maintenance?
That is true.
Any thoughts on how dealers will recoup those lost dollars?
The landscape is changing and technology is changing the business model. There are a lot of open questions about what future revenue models will look like for fixed operations. I think a lot of it will revolve around advancing technologies, things that we don’t see as mainstream in the market yet. There will be a lot revolving around services and subscriptions and providing technology options to this new wave of customers.
What’s Mitsubishi’s view on express service?
We currently don’t have a manufacturer’s sponsored program, but we have many dealers who do it well on their own. But now that the business is growing, we are taking a deep dive into how we can support that as an organization and grow that piece of the business with our dealer organization.