Mitsubishi Suffers Another Setback At A Terrible Time

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What happens next?

Things haven't been easy for Japanese automaker Mitsubishi for several years now, despite the fact it joined the Renault-Nissan alliance not long ago. Although that did provide much-needed financial stability, the fallout from the Carlos Ghosn scandal made a difficult situation even more so. A few weeks ago, Mitsubishi announced a major global market overhaul that will see it end sales in Europe and reduce its presence in North America. Instead, it'll focus on regions where it performs the best, such as Southeast Asia. But now there's another setback.

Mitsubishi has announced the immediate resignation of its chairman, Osamu Masuko, due to unspecified health reasons. He will stay on as a "special adviser" and current CEO Takao Kato will become temporary chairman.

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Masuko led one of Japan's smallest automakers for the past 15 years, having previously served as its CEO and other top jobs. It was under his leadership when Mitsubishi began its development of hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Today, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV crossover has become a best-seller. That success, however, was nearly eliminated in 2016 when it was exposed Mitsubishi has been overstating fuel economy ratings on Japanese market-only mini cars for several years.

The fallout nearly caused the automaker to go under and its then-CEO was forced to resign. Masuko and Ghosn were able to strike a deal that saw Mitsubishi join the now-struggling alliance. Ghosn initially made himself Mitsubishi's new chairman while Masuko became CEO.

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Following Ghosn's arrest, Masuko not only stepped back into the chairman role and promoted current CEO Kato to the job but also took a lead role in trying to repair Renault-Nissan relations. Mitsubishi still has a long way to go in its new "Small But Beautiful" recovery plan and not having a stabilizing force like Masuko at the helm is somewhat unsettling. Like nearly all other automakers, Mitsubishi's sales are down this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Fortunately, Masuko groomed the company's next-generation of leadership before his abrupt retirement. A plan is now in place and new product is on its way for markets where it's needed the most. Will that be enough to guarantee Mitsubishi's long-term future? Nothing is for certain these days.

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