Mitsubishi just so happens to have an awesome off-roading history. See where we're going with this?
The other day, Mitsubishi announced the appointment, effective April 1, of its new CEO, Fred Diaz. Having spent a significant portion of his career at Chrysler, his big rise to fame was when he was in charge of splitting off Ram from Dodge to make it its own brand. He then went on to run Ram for a few years with great success. Other automakers noticed and Nissan later poached him to revitalize its own pickup trucks. The latest Titan is mainly his doing.
Now that Mitsubishi has become part of the Renault-Nissan alliance, the once struggling Japanese brand has access to top industry talent like Diaz. Some were caught off guard by the decision to give him the position, and some of us in the CarBuzz office were pleasantly surprised he wanted it because he’s considered an industry rock star who could work anywhere. The fact of the matter is that he’s exactly the right guy for the job. You see, Mitsubishi is just starting to get back on its feet after a few scandals in its home market. Combined with some other bad business decisions, it was bleeding cash and was nearly finished for good until Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn came to the rescue.
Since then, Mitsubishi actually finished off 2017 with pretty good numbers in the US. Sales increased by 7.7 percent, its fifth straight year of annual increase. Because it’s been infused into the now Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi, this alliance became the world’s best-selling auto group last year, besting both Volkswagen and Toyota. But where does Mitsubishi USA go from here? Sure, there’s the new Eclipse Cross, a crossover that revitalizes a famous name, as well as the Outlander plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV), Outlander Sport, and Mirage subcompact hatchback and sedan. But what else? Nothing. The Lancer and the i-MiEV are dead. How can Mitsubishi stay competitive with just four or five models?
It can’t, hence the reason to bring in Diaz. And this presents a huge opportunity for Mitsubishi. Huge. Diaz clearly knows how to not only build a brand but also to take an existing model, specifically its aged full-size pickup truck, and make it seriously competitive again. Apply that formula and other needed remedies to Mitsubishi and the possibilities are many. For example, given the reemergence of mid-size pickup trucks and SUVs in the US, partly thanks to cheap gas prices, why can’t Mitsubishi jump into at least one of those segments? It already knows how to build competitive 4x4s. The overseas only Pajero, despite its age, is still kind of competitive. It’s a true body-on-frame SUV.
But instead of just bringing it back to the US (where it was called the Montero), where it hasn’t been sold since 2006, why not give it a proper redesign? That new/updated platform would then be utilized for not only a new SUV, but also a pickup truck. Given that Ford just revealed an all-new Ranger for the US that’ll also serve as the basis for reborn Bronco in 2020, there’s clearly an opening for additional competition. Will Mitsubishi be one of those competitors? Up until last week we’d say no way. Not a chance. We were convinced it committed itself, at least for the foreseeable future, to crossovers. Bringing Diaz onboard could change things.
Nissan is also said to be working on a new Frontier, so right there is another opportunity for Mitsubishi to get back into the truck business. Why are we so bullish for Mitsubishi trucks and SUVs? Because it has an impressive history in off-roading. For example, the Pajero is the most successful vehicle in the history of the Dakar Rally, winning its class 7 out of the last 10 races and, 15 of the full 32 races. Its current main overseas rivals have been the Land Rover Discovery, Toyota Land Cruiser, and Nissan Patrol. Diaz will need to play to the brand’s strengths, and off-roading is one of them. But what about a reborn 3000GT or Evo? Stop wondering.
Diaz, like all other top industry people, knows better than to do a niche two-door sports car and/or a sedan that’ll get crushed by crossover sales. His best bet going forward is to continue improving Mitsubishi’s crossover lineup while incorporating hybrid tech, as well as – and this is our humble opinion – a new pickup truck and/or SUV. Only this time Mitsubishi really needs to avoid a crappy rebadge job. Anyone remember the Dodge Dakota rebadged as the Mitsubishi Raider? Try not to.