Now the proud purveyors of the greenest car in America—the Mitsubishi i—one of Japan’s smaller automakers will continue playing the efficiency card with the all-new 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander, which will come to market with an available plug-in hybrid powertrain. It’s true the news may have been eclipsed by some of the other big debuts at the Geneva Motor Show, but the new Mitsubishi really could lead to some positive sales growth once it hits the U.S.
The automaker already showed plenty of moxie last year by recovering from the disasters in Japan to post the second-highest sales jump in the country. With sales up by a bit over 40 percent in 2011, Mitsubishi trailed only Jeep in terms of volume growth. Much of this increase, of course, can be traced to the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, the smaller and nimbler sibling of the Outlander proper. The fairly dynamic crossover launched late in 2010, then rang up 16,443 sales last year. Impressively, the Outlander Sport also saved the best for last, delivering 1,534 units in December, its strongest sales month of the year.
Now, Mitsubishi didn’t have much else to crow about in 2011, sales-wise, but here’s the thing: smaller automakers like Mitsubishi can be compared to college basketball teams. With only a limited number of players in the game at one time, it can take just one superstar to move a school from a season of sadness to a spot in “March Madness.”
That’s exactly the kind of effect Mitsubishi is hoping to achieve with the new Outlander. (The Outlander Sport, built on the same platform as the current Outlander and sharing a notable amount of hardware, simply wasn’t enough of a breakthrough entry to play this part.) Details remain a bit sketchy, but the company claims the redesigned Outlander is being built on an all-new “architecture,” and there’s a clear focus on creating a true next-gen vehicle that could take on rivals like the all-new Mazda CX-5 and 2013 Ford Escape. Thus, the Outlander’s press materials, which provide some European specs, mention a fresh six-speed automatic transmission; a new valvetrain for its gas engine, perhaps indicating the presence of variable valve timing, etc.; a clean diesel alternative; an Automatic Stop & Go system, that shuts off fuel to the engine in certain driving conditions; and, perhaps most significantly, a plug-in hybrid propulsion system that will include an all-wheel-drive setup.
EVs haven’t exactly electrified the U.S. marketplace yet, but continued high gas prices are likely to change that, and Mitsubishi has the expertise it needs to take advantage of shifting customer preferences. For evidence of this, simply look to the Mitsubishi i that, as mentioned above, was No. 1 on the 2012 list of Greenest Vehicles from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. The experience and technology Mitsubishi continues to gain with the i surely will help with the plug-in Outlander, and by extension, any future hybrid and/or electric products that will share its global vehicle platform.
And who knows, with today’s rising fuel costs, Mitsubishi’s Outland-ish strategy just might work.