Mitsubishi Motors may not have the big size and ample philanthropy budgets of rival automakers in the U.S., but it still seeks to make a difference in the communities where it sells vehicles through its new corporate social responsibility program, Small Batch — Big Impact.
Over the course of 10 days this month, the Japanese automaker sponsored two U.S. military veterans in a unique all-women's off-road rally across 1,400 miles of unpaved California terrain, starting in Lake Tahoe and culminating in San Diego on Oct. 19.
Mitsubishi chose to support the nonprofit organization Record the Journey, which uses photography as a form of therapy to help veterans transition to civilian life by focusing on their immediate reality through the camera viewfinder.
The Rebelle Rally, primarily a navigation competition, is "a hybrid of a serious competition and the ultimate road trip," according to the organizers. Navigation is done with a map and compass. No smartphones or GPS devices are allowed, and competitors spend the nights at base camps in tents.
Charity founder Rachael Ridenour, an Army combat veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, was the navigator of the modified Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross as it crossed the mountains and valleys of California. Ridenour partnered with Karah Behrend, an Air Force veteran who had to retire from service after suffering from a regenerative nerve disease that affected her lower extremities. The Mitsubishi crossover was modified with hand controls for Behrend, who was the first adaptive-athlete driver ever to compete in the rally.
The team finished second in the crossover class.
"The transition from a military deployment to arriving at home with your family can be abrupt and disorienting," said Ridenour in a statement.
"Through my own process, I realized that when you're looking through the lens of a camera, you're forced to be in the present, not thinking about the past or the future. You can express yourself without having to use words, and it's an activity that you can easily share with others to reestablish human connection."
The race was Mitsubishi's first step in its reimagined corporate outreach program that will loan its crossovers as "community utility vehicles" to small nonprofit groups and social benefit corporations, according to the automaker. Dealers will be brought into the program to identify local groups that could benefit from a vehicle.
The name of the corporate program echoes Mitsubishi's new "Small Batch" marketing slogan that plays up the brand's small size in the U.S. as it seeks to become a more nimble marque that responds quickly to consumer tastes.
"Small Batch is our new marketing vision, and we said at the outset that it would go beyond advertising to influence every aspect of our business in the U.S.," said Kimberley Gardiner, chief marketing officer for Mitsubishi Motors North America. "Rachael and Karah are ensuring this partnership gets off to an inspirational start by blazing a trail for adaptive athletes in the Rebelle Rally."
The Eclipse Cross from the competition will now be used by Record the Journey as a support vehicle for charity work with other veterans and promotional activities, Mitsubishi said.
The rally competition has also served to raise Mitsubishi's profile and connect with consumers. Photos from the rally garnered some of the most likes and comments on the brand's Instagram account over the course of the event, said spokesman Jeremy Barnes.