What's riskier: Trying to sell a self-driving EV or not cashing in on the truck craze?
At the 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show we had a chance to talk to Don Swearingen, COO of Mitsubishi Motors North America (MMNA). After asking about the Lancer Evo (still dead forever) the conversation moved to the automaker's rebirth. Funnily enough, the Japanese automaker isn’t as lost in the woods as we thought. Swearingen told us profits are the highest they’ve been since 2002. But those profits could be increased with a new CUV, something dealerships have been asking for. What’s the other car on the wish list? A mid-size pickup truck.
Specifically, Mitsubishi dealers want the company to bring its oil-burning L200, which is made in Thailand, to the United States. The reason is simple: gas prices are low and people are buying mid-size trucks like crazy. But concerns about competition and the cost of entry are outweighing a desire to rush head first into the fray. That being said the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi super group will be all about sharing to keep costs down, although product sharing is a mid-range goal. While profits are up they could be better, much better. Mitsubishi is on track to sell under 100,000 cars in 2016. A mid-size truck would boost profits but a CUV... To that end the 2017 New York Auto Show will see the debut of a new production Mitsubishi crossover.
One thing that new crossover may have is some form of autonomous driving. We’re not talking about the self-driving the eX Concept is capable of (on paper). We were told the concept car could park itself if you were in a rush, say you were running late to a movie. So how far away is Mitsubishi from putting that tech in a consumer car? It turns out a few years, but MMNA’s COO did say that testing on autonomous cars is currently underway in Japan. Mitsubishi’s rebirth hasn’t been the sexiest thing in the world but now that it’s in the Renault-Nissan fold it should be able to spend a bit more cash and take a few more chances. Whether that means bringing an autonomous EV stateside or a mid-size pickup remains to be seen.