Higher volt­age

Mit­subishi plays to its strengths with a new fo­cus on plug-in hy­brid wag­ons. John Carey re­ports

The Advertiser - Motoring - - NEWS THE SUV COMPANY -

IN the car busi­ness, size re­ally does mat­ter. Just ask Mit­subishi. Small­ness is why SUVs will fill the com­pany’s showrooms in the near fu­ture, the lon­grun­ning Lancer name is headed for ex­tinc­tion, and the next Pa­jero will have a lot in com­mon with the Nis­san Pa­trol.

The Ja­panese brand, once big in Aus­tralia, these days sells about 1 mil­lion ve­hi­cles a year glob­ally. This might seem a big num­ber but it means Mit­subishi is only one-tenth the size of the gi­ants, Toy­ota, Volk­swa­gen and Gen­eral Mo­tors.

Mit­subishi’s size means it can’t af­ford the huge costs of de­vel­op­ing a full line-up of mod­ern cars and keep­ing up with rapid ad­vances in tech­nolo­gies.

Even be­fore Nis­san bought a con­trol­ling 34 per cent share of the com­pany late last year, Mit­subishi planned to turn it­self into an SUV spe­cial­ist. Nis­san, through its suc­cess­ful al­liance with Re­nault, is large, though not quite in the same league as the Big Three.

The ba­sic strat­egy hasn’t changed since long-time Nis­san exec Trevor Mann was ap­pointed Mit­subishi Mo­tors chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer in Oc­to­ber.

How­ever, the plain-speak­ing Bri­tish-born engi­neer says there will be tighter fo­cus of Mit­subishi’s lim­ited re­sources on get­ting the re­place­ments for its big­gest sellers, the ASX and Out­lander SUVs, just right.

First up will be the smaller and older ASX. The eX Con­cept show car dis­played at sev­eral re­cent mo­tor shows pro­vides a pointer to its likely style, se­nior ex­ec­u­tives say.

The next ASX will shrink slightly, ac­cord­ing to other sources. This is to cre­ate show­room breath­ing space for the sportier and less prac­ti­cal Eclipse Cross SUV, which is only frac­tion­ally larger than the cur­rent ASX. Re­vealed in pro­duc­tion form at the Geneva mo­tor show ear­lier this month, the Eclipse Cross is due in Aus­tralia late this year.

Nis­san has al­most com­pleted its re­vi­sion of Mit­subishi’s fu­ture model plans, ac­cord­ing to Mann.

“Be­fore we start the new fi­nan­cial year, we will lock in our next long-range prod­uct plan,” he says. March 31 is the last day of the cur­rent Ja­panese fi­nan­cial year.

“Some of the older cars and some of the stronger names might not con­tinue but I don’t think that’s a prob­lem. You shouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily keep bang­ing the same drum just be­cause you had a car that every­body liked once.”

All over the world, he says, tastes are grad­u­ally chang­ing and in a way that suits Mit­subishi. “It is go­ing to­wards the SUV type of ve­hi­cle, which is our strength.”

One way for Mit­subishi to get the most out of its lim­ited new-model de­vel­op­ment bud­get could be to col­lab­o­rate with Nis­san to cre­ate a suc­ces­sor for the big Pa­jero and Pa­trol 4WDs.

Heavy-duty off-road­ers are com­ing un­der pres­sure to de­liver lower CO2 emis­sions, via dra­mat­i­cally im­prov­ing fuel ef­fi­ciency. Work­ing with Nis­san to do this makes sense, Mann says. “That is some­thing we will be ex­plor­ing.”

Weight re­duc­tion is one ob­vi­ous move but Mann says a plug-in hy­brid driv­e­train also makes sense for a big 4WD of the fu­ture. “One of the things you need with a ve­hi­cle like that is high torque, and one of the things you get with an elec­tric mo­tor is high torque.”

With a back-up in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine, he reck­ons a Pa­jero PHEV would have a driv­ing range to meet the need of re­mote area users.

Plug-in hy­brid driv­e­trains are a Mit­subishi specialty. The Out­lander PHEV, though it has sold slowly in Aus­tralia, has been a big hit in mar­kets where gov­ern­ment in­cen­tives en­cour­age driv­ers to buy lowe­mis­sion ve­hi­cles. It has at times topped the new car sales charts in the Nether­lands, for ex­am­ple.

Given his engi­neer­ing back­ground, Mann seems en­thu­si­as­tic about the po­ten­tial of Mit­subishi work­ing with Nis­san on a new Pa­jero and Pa­trol. That en­thu­si­asm ap­pears to evap­o­rate when it came to dis­cussing the fu­ture of the Lancer. Orig­i­nally launched in Aus­tralia in the 1970s, the Lancer be­came one of our favourite small cars. But the cur­rent model has been in pro­duc­tion for a decade.

That makes it an old-timer com­pared to the mod­els that are best­sellers in the class.

Just be­cause Mit­subishi has been build­ing Lancers for 40 years or so is not a good enough rea­son to do an­other, Mann says. He might also care to run a broom through Mit­subishi’s de­sign de­part­ment.

The Eclipse Cross is no style ri­val for ob­vi­ous com­peti­tors such as the re­cently launched Toy­ota C-HR.

What’s more, some of Mit­subishi’s re­cent mo­tor show con­cepts have been very odd. Un­kind? Just take a look at the GC-PHEV, a big SUV show car dis­played at Paris last year.

Plug-in: Eclipse Cross com­pact SUV, due here later this year; in­set, the GC-PHEV hints at fu­ture large ver­sions

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.