Struggles with some subjects. It’s too little too late for Mitsubishi in 2015. A new Triton will be a welcome sight for dealers, but the rest of the market is pulling away from the brand. New models can’t come soon enough – but most appear to be in 2016 and beyond.
Sales*: 54,132 (-9.3%)
2014 sales forecast: 63,500
Wheels prediction for 2015: 8th
*To end of October
THERE was a time when Mitsubishi used to vaguely keep the big boys – Toyota, Holden and Ford – honest in the sales race. It was a clear fourth place, but a well-positioned force ready to pounce – and always trying hard with some honest cars (the Magna was twice a Wheels COTY winner, in 1985 and 96).
It’s worth remembering, too, that in the late 1990s the locally produced Magna was selling more than the Commodore and Falcon do today.
But in the mid-noughties things went backwards for the Japanese brand, which then went on to shut down its local manufacturing operations in 2008.
Just as the shock of that was wearing off and buyers were learning to accept imported Mitsubishis, the GFC took hold and HQ in Japan decided to slash research and development costs, leaving the new model cupboard much more bare than it should have been.
Market share slipped in Australia and the brand is still paying for a lack of fresh metal in dealerships.
These days, Mitsubishi does a good line in mediocrity. The Lancer is feeling tired and the Outlander struggles against mid-size SUV favourites.
About the only segment Mitsubishi has big success in is with the ultra price-sensitive micro car class, where the Mirage is a sales leader. But the segment is down 27 percent and profit at that end of the market is slim – or non-existent. Basically it comes down to price.
Heavy discounting on the Triton has propped up sales of the brand’s biggest seller in light of intense competition.
WELCOME relief comes early in 2015 with the all new Triton ute. It may bring with it a price advantage but promises big things in one of the country’s most important segments.
There’s also talk of a hybrid version – previewed in 2013 as the GR-HEV show car – although don’t expect to see it early in the new Triton’s life.
Later in the year could see the arrival of the new Challenger, which will again be based on the Triton but with a more traditional SUV body.
The Toyota RAV4-rivalling Outlander is also due for a facelift early in the year, with fresh styling front and rear and the usual array of new features.
But there seems little in the way of small cars and hatchbacks – still the biggest single segment of the new car market – with rumours of an all-new Lancer, likely to be produced off a Renault or Nissan platform as part of a strategic alliance announced in 2013.
But the ASX and Mirage – together accounting for about a quarter of Mitsubishi sales – look set to soldier on largely unchanged in the short term.
IN 2015 the pressure is on Mitsubishi, which appears to have little chance of growing market share in the short term. The lack of passenger vehicles from a brand with a proud history in some great small and medium cars – remember the Galant, Colt and once class-leading Mirage? – means pricing and other retail offers will be the main weapon to slow slipping sales.
While there’s some relief on the SUV and ute side of the business, it’s an area that’s under intense pressure from rivals keen to protect – or grow – their patch. Nissan has guns raised, while Hyundai and Kia are two others keen to capitalise on prey looking weak. The latter, in particular, could make life tough for Mitsubishi, with its industry-leading seven-year warranty outgunning the still-impressive five-year cover for Mitsus.
Then there’s Toyota, which is keen to regain ground lost in the ute market with the imminent arrival of a new HiLux; the Japanese rivals is also keen to claw back market share – and it doesn’t care where it comes from.
Mitsubishi may soon have more room to move on pricing with some key models – Lancer, ASX and Outlander – once the Japanese free trade agreement is implemented (timing has not been set).