Mitsubishi Won't Survive The Electric Car Revolution

Opinion / 30 Comments

The brand is at risk of losing its identity and becoming unsalvageable.

It's easy to say that Mitsubishi has fallen from grace, and as enthusiasts, it's easy to place that blame squarely on the shoulders of those that let the Lancer Evolution die, of those that revived the Eclipse as a crossover SUV.

But today, I'm not writing about how Mitsubishi sold out as an enthusiast brand - I've done enough of that aimed at BMW lately - but instead how I'm deeply worried about the future of a Japanese brand that was once an icon of the automotive world. Because Mitsubishi is in dire need of change, and having seen the forecasts and watched the news pertaining to its alliance with Renault and Nissan, I don't think Mitsubishi is going to survive the changing automotive world that we're currently living in.

So let's take a look at the problems facing Mitsubishi.


1. A Dull, Uninspired Lineup

Forget about Lancer Evos for a second, that horse is dead and beaten. Many brands can survive without sports cars, and you only need to look at Hyundai, Kia, and to a degree, even Mazda to see that so long as you have inspired products, you can build a successful brand. But what does Mitsubishi have?

Currently, four model lines are available in the USA. There's the Eclipse Cross, which is a mediocre compact crossover that has no chance of standing out against the RAV4, CR-V, CX-5, Tucson, or just about any rival in existence. Then there's the Mirage hatch and Mirage G4 sedan, which are cheap econoboxes that are so bad to drive they were even axed from emerging third-world countries like South Africa for being such dismal failures. The Outlander Sport has been around in its current generation since 2010, and no amount of facelifts can keep that alive. A new one has been released in Europe, and the Outlander Sport will soon be dead in America, which is of little consolation.

That leaves the regular Outlander, and its PHEV variant, which are, admittedly, pretty decent... except for the fact that the Nissan Rogue is the same car with better packaging.

2021-2023 Mitsubishi Mirage G4 Frontal Aspect Mitsubishi
2020-2023 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport Front-End View Mitsubishi

2. Poor Future Models

Every brand goes through a slump, and in that time, you look to the future for something new and exciting. But not even my crystal ball is optimistic enough to see anything exciting coming the way of Mitsubishi.

For starters, the new Outlander Sport - the one that isn't coming to America - is just a rebadged Renault Captur that doesn't even get a unique design. Then there's the new Mitsubishi Colt that's been teased in Europe, which will be nothing more than a rebadged Renault Clio.

Mitsubishi is planning to leverage electric architecture from Nissan and Renault to build future EVs, but, I can see it already, these will be flavorless badging exercises or light redesigns with nothing unique.

The only glimmer of hope Mitsubishi has in the future vehicle department is the L200 midsize pickup, but even that won't be a unique prospect and will share a platform with the next-gen Nissan Navara, the global equivalent to the Frontier.

Does any of this seem even vaguely exciting? Not to me, it doesn't, as all I see is a brand that's lost its own identity and is struggling to maintain sales volumes by passing off someone else's homework as its own.

Mitsubishi Motors

3. Dwindling Sales

Speaking of those sales volumes, in 2022, Mitsubishi sold 85,810 vehicles in the USA. That was down nearly 20% compared to 2021, and was 1,962 units less than what it managed to shift in 2020 - yes, that 2020, the one with the global pandemic.

Sure, there were global supply chain issues and a war in the Ukraine to deal with, but Mitsubishi's 2022 sales figures are the lowest they've been since 2014. And if you compare that to the brand's best ever sales year in the US, the picture is dire. In 2002, Mitsubishi sold 345,915 cars in America, and in the two years before that, it sold more than 300,000. Now it can't even manage a third of that.

Mitsubishi launched in the US in 1982, and it took the brand only six years to reach six-digit annual sales figures. Now, it can't even hit that number.

And you know what Mitsubishi's answer to that is? To dust off the iconic Ralliart name and slap it on a bunch of uninspiring crossovers as a styling package. Heresy.


4. No Brand Loyalty

Things are cyclical in the automotive industry, and we've seen brands go through good and bad patches. In the early-to-mid 2000s, Toyota was boring and churned out batch after batch of anonymous, characterless, dull automobiles that left us feeling nothing. Absolutely nothing. But you know what Toyota had on its side? Three things:

  • Brand loyalty - People would buy a Toyota for the badge on the hood, even if the product was dull, because they had decades of experience with a brand that was, if nothing else, consistent.
  • A reputation for reliability - Even if you weren't buying new, buying a used car from Toyota meant Toyota engineering and inherent Toyota reliability.
  • Sales figures - Even when Toyota was at its dullest, it still had a strong enough combination of product and brand loyalty to sell millions of cars to the US audience. Millions. This meant that even when the brand's success dipped, as it did from 2008-2011, it still had the money at its disposal to reinvent itself anew.

And those things afforded Toyota the ability to reforge its identity and become one of the best-selling sports car brands in America.

Front Angle View Mitsubishi
2017-2020 Mitsubishi Mirage G4 Rear Angle View Mitsubishi
2020-2023 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport Rear View Driving Mitsubishi

Nissan had much the same issue, where uninspiring products eventually resulted in poor sales, and the brand needed reinvention. But it's managed to do that, and a strong customer base was willing to flock back to the brand they'd once fallen in love with.

But Mitsubishi doesn't have brand loyalty, and its sales volumes are tiny by comparison. I think we can all agree the brand needs a drastic overhaul and a brand reinvention to bring it to the front of people's minds again, but such rebirth requires massive investment, and massive investment requires strong enough sales figures to have money available.

When Toyota decided to make its brand exciting again - thanks to Akio Toyoda - it was able to invest billions of dollars into exciting products like the Toyota 86, the GR Yaris, and the GR Corolla. Even if it relied on Subaru and BMW for help with the 86 and GR Supra, there was money to be invested and partners willing to trade expertise for the hybrid and hydrogen technology Toyota had at its disposal. Mitsubishi has no such technological advancements that anyone else wants.


Just Another Lancia Waiting To Die

When you look at all this together, the picture it paints for Mitsubishi is dire. It's been years since the brand had anything class-leading, decades since it had anything iconic, and its current and future lineups are neither anything special nor anything unique. The reliance on platforms and technology from its alliance partners may help Mitsubishi reduce costs in the near term, but what good is that if Mitsubishi isn't using said cost-cutting to reinvent itself and invest in something new?

As much as it pains me to say it, I fear Mitsubishi is going to become another Lancia - a once-great brand that rested on its laurels and became nothing more than a supporting act, an also-ran used to support a larger group's star of the show.


Renault-Nissan Leaving Mitsubishi Out In The Cold

And yes, you'll probably chime in that Lancia is in the midst of a revival and that Stellantis is letting the Italian icon reinvigorate itself with EVs like the Pu+Ra concept, and you'd be right. But Lancia now has the backing of the fifth largest automaker in the world in Stellantis, and that war chest of finances and technological resources is something Mitsubishi doesn't have.

Remember, Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi is an alliance; no parent company is looking out for the best interests of its child brands. Each of these brands wants the best for themselves, and they'll take as much as they can get and share as little as humanly possible to achieve that goal.

With little to offer in the way of advanced powertrain solutions, platforms for new market segments, or anything else for that matter, I fear Mitsubishi may be too far gone.

I don't think the brand will become totally defunct, as there is still enough love for it in Japan and a few other markets, but unless something drastic changes, and fast, I don't see Mitsubishi surviving the electric revolution in America.

Renault Nissan Mitsubishi

Join The Discussion



Related Cars

To Top