UAW Deal Saves Plant, Can Mitsubishi Outlander Save Company?
With just a few days left in the year, I'm going shake things up a bit by intermittently shining the Krome on Cars spotlight on some of the smaller players in the industry, starting with Mitsubishi. Despite seeing sales fall off ye olde cliff in recent years, the company plans to quadruple its U.S. numbers in the semi-near-term future, thanks in part to a recent deal with the UAW that is expected to bring new products to Mitsubishi's U.S. plant in Normal, Ill. That's a vital move, since the company's fresher models, like the Mitsubishi Outlander and Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, do seem to contain the seeds of future success.
Some Old Faves
First though, let's see how some of the automaker's older products are doing, and if you look at them the right way, the answer is "not as terrible as you might think." For example, the Mitsubishi Galant outsold the Volkswagen Passat last month.
Of course, the punchline here is that VW sold only 374 Passats in November as compared to 634 sales for the Galant. But that's still an accomplishment given that the Galant still rocks a four-speed automatic as its transmission of choice. And it's not like this is one of those basic transportation vehicles I sometimes talk about that make up for a lack of technology with a high-value price. The MSRP on the Galant is $21,599'”that's a few hundred bucks more than a Honda Accord sedan. In that context, I suppose 634 sales don't look so bad.
On the other hand, the Mitsubishi Eclipse, another one of the company's made-in-America offerings, truly does provide a relatively strong alternative to cars like the Scion tC or Kia Forte Koup. The Eclipse has a Fast/Furious reputation, dramatic styling and a starting price of $18,995 in its four-cylinder configuration, plus it's also available as a drop-top. Interestingly, the sales of Mitsubishi's sports coupe also eclipsed those of the Audi TT last month, with the former racking up 176 sales and the latter only finding 76 buyers.
The U.S. plant also is home to the Mitsubishi Endeavor, a mid-size crossover that shares the car platform beneath the Eclipse and Galant, along with their low volumes. Last month saw only 725 Endeavor sales'” but that was just 17 fewer than the Hyundai Veracruz and represented a 329 percent year-over-year November jump. The Endeavor also happens to be strongly outperforming the industry as a whole this year, with sales up 34 percent through the end of last month. Consider it another example of how the rising tide of truck sales is lifting all boats.
New Models for New Growth
And speaking of growing sales on the truck side, the Outlander also has seen relatively robust numbers this year, particularly in recent months. Mitsubishi's other mid-size crossover'”at about 184 inches in length it's roughly eight inches shorter than the Endeavor'”benefited from a 64 percent sales leap in November on its way to a 23 percent improvement through that month. More importantly, the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, in its first full month on sale, found 688 new customers in November. That's obviously no great shakes volume-wise, but that mark did make the Outlander Sport the third-best-selling vehicle in Mitsubishi's lineup.
With the Outlander duo, you're talking about two very competitive vehicles with up-to-date content and EPA numbers, selling in two of the market's high-growth segments. This is especially the case with the Outlander Sport, which stands out as an early entry in the compact crossover niche. This vehicle is under 170 inches'”some five shorter than the Kia Sportage'”and makes a nice alternative to the more hyped Nissan Juke.
The Mitsubishi Lancer family has been expanded and now features a hatchback to go with the sedan and hi-po Evolution, and these cars remain a solid foundation for the future. Heck, the automaker even has a coming entry in the EV sweepstakes with the "i," which debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
But none of these models are made in the company's U.S. plant'”yet. If/when they are, Mitsubishi could start to realize cost savings that would help bring down MSRPs. At that point, you've got an Asian automaker featuring U.S.-built products, low prices and strong warranty coverage; just throw down a revised design language and Mitsubishi could be Hyundai 2.0.