As one in seven U.S. Mitsubishi stores plan facility upgrades as part of the automaker's new dealership image program, some dealers say they are optimistic about the brand's growth in a flat sales market.
Fifty of the Japanese brand's about 355 U.S. stores have agreed to participate in the image program, which includes financial support from Mitsubishi, Mark Chaffin, COO of Mitsubishi Motors North America, told Automotive News following the brand's make meeting at the NADA Show.
Dealers who fulfill six elements of Mitsubishi's exterior image program will receive a subsidy from Mitsubishi Motors, Chaffin said. He declined to comment on how much dealers could receive.
Mitsubishi last had a store improvement program in the U.S. in 2000. The new facility look includes a black exterior with a diagonal design element on the facade that has been dubbed the "Dynamic Slope."
R.C. Hill, a DeLand, Fla., Mitsubishi retailer for 15 years, said he was awarded a second dealership last year and plans to spend $6 million on a new store in Ocala, Fla., that will feature the brand's new design and open by year end.
Hill said he is setting himself up for a strong future he sees with Mitsubishi in the next two to four years, including brand growth and more product.
"It's something that I think we need to commit to do," he said. "Each dealer's timing may be different, but eventually we'll get there."
Chaffin also discussed with dealers the brand's growth plans, including adding 32 U.S. dealerships in the current fiscal year that ends March 31. Mitsubishi wants to add stores in Los Angeles, New York, Houston and San Francisco, he said.
Establishing a leasing product is a priority for management, Chaffin said, and the company has improved the 90-day vehicle ordering system following dealer complaints. He declined to comment on new vehicles planned.
"We're combining our new products, a strengthened dealer network and an improved customer experience to sustain our growth and to grow our brand in the years ahead," he said.
Last year, Mitsubishi's U.S. sales rose 14 percent, though deliveries of 118,074 light vehicles put its volume among the lowest for mass-market brands.
Richard Herod III, general manager of White Bear Mitsubishi in White Bear Lake, Minn., said his store's sales have grown from two vehicles monthly in 2010 when it opened to 100 to 125 vehicles a month.
He's pleased with the brand's investment in marketing and recent hiring of Kimberley Gardiner as chief marketing officer. Gardiner has 20 years of auto marketing communications experience with Toyota, Scion, Lexus and Kia.