Why do they bother?
That question is asked of smaller brands that find themselves struggling to compete in the U.S. market sometimes.
Why don't they just throw in the towel?
A few decades ago, industry sages wondered aloud how a brand such as Mitsubishi could seriously envision competing in the U.S. — not just against the big guys of the day, such as Pontiac and Plymouth, but even against the second-level guys of the day, such as Honda and Nissan.
Then Mitsubishi's guardian angel Chrysler Corp. stepped in to shore up the Japanese company's U.S. market plans with shared products.
But then Chrysler dropped them. Instead of slinking away, though, Mitsubishi orchestrated a comeback on its own.
But then that imploded, too. And people again wondered: Why do they bother?
But then they came back again, with encouragement from their new guardian angel, Nissan, which gave new hope for the U.S. market with shared products. And Mitsubishi again began to stir.
A year ago, Mitsubishi's leadership in Japan declared they would double down on the U.S. and get the fires going again. But now as Nissan and Mitsubishi both struggle to shore up their financial outlooks, that plan is no longer clear.
Two weeks ago, Mitsubishi leadership in Japan said they will scale back its involvement in the world's competitive megamarkets, such as China and Europe.
We asked for clarification: Isn't the U.S. also a megamarket? Yes, they said. The U.S. is also a megamarket.
So … are they in? Are they out?
People always want easy answers. But the question of whether to give up on the U.S. market is far too weighty for an easy answer. Subaru faced the question.
In the early 1990s, Subaru's sales were meager. They had entered into a dubious joint venture to build cars at a new factory in Indiana with a truckmaker, Isuzu.
And demand for the Indiana-made Subarus was too low for the venture to meet its goals, even though Isuzu was rocking and rolling there. Skeptics thought Subaru wasn't long for that factory or for this market.
Fast-forward: It was Isuzu that gave up on the U.S. passenger-car market. Subaru is still here, on top of the world, and it probably now wishes it had two Indiana factories.
Mazda was another one.
Why do they bother, people wondered of Mazda several years ago after products failed to catch on and the company gave up on its Michigan manufacturing plant.
Mazda is now bolstered by an equity alliance with Toyota, and the partners are spending $1.6 billion to construct a U.S. assembly plant that promises a new era for Mazda.
And for that matter: Toyota.
Toyota showed up here in 1957 to the sound of crickets. And three years later, it gave up on the U.S. market.
But then it came back. And became … well, Toyota — one of America's most prominent brands.
Fortunes change. The cards get reshuffled. The game surprises you. People learn. Companies come back. And fail. And come back again.