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2010 Mitsubishi Outlander GT – Click above for high-res image gallery

When the healthy catches a cold, the sickly contract the flu. Over the past few years, Mitsubishi has been suffering from a degenerative case of bronchial pneumonia, with a side of strep and a nasty rash. In other, less contagious words, Mitsubishi has been faring very poorly during the industry's worst downturn in decades, and it's tough to say if the struggling Japanese automaker will ever leave the intensive care unit.

But to listen to John Koenig, executive vice president of Mitsubishi North America, that will all change over the next few years. Koenig has told Wards Automotive that he sees Mitsubishi hitting 100,000 sales in the U.S. within three years. Mitsubishi only sold 53,986 vehicles in 2009, down 44.5 percent compared to a still depressing 2008, and that's only one sixth of the Japanese automaker's 345,111 U.S. sales in 2002. Koenig says he's had to reassure dealers that Mitsubishi isn't leaving the North American market, adding "that's probably their biggest fear, because they're reading about it in various journals."

To get out of its sales rut, Mitsubishi plans to bolster sales with the help of the 2010 Outlander, a vehicle that we found to be pretty entertaining and capable. Koenig also points to the current Lancer as another vehicle that could help turn sales around.

Will Mitsubishi return to sales of 100,000 units a year in the States? It's difficult to say, really, but given the automaker's performance over the past few years, we're not all that optimistic. The good news though is that most sales problems can easily be cured with good products, and if the Outlander is as good as we think it is we're thinking, Mitsubishi has a shot at staying relevant – though they had better be readying a few new cannons in their arsenal.

[Source: Wards Automotive – sub. req.]

[Source: Wards Automotive sub. req.]

Mitsubishi Motors North America is setting its sights on a return to 100,000-unit sales in a calendar year, after suffering a severe drop in volume in recent years, a top executive says.

"I'd say (we'll hit the mark) probably within three years," John Koenig, executive vice president-MMNA, tells Ward's during his recent visit here.

Mitsubishi sold 53,986 vehicles in the U.S. last year, 44.5% below 97,257 in 2008, Ward's data shows. Volume in 2008 fell 24.6% from 2007, which was the last year the auto maker exceeded 100,000 units, with 128,993 deliveries, for an 8.8% gain on 2006.

Mitsubishi's U.S. volume was 345,111 as recently as 2002, but sales quickly tumbled due to fallout from a 0% financing scheme concocted by former MMNA CEO Pierre Gagnon. Many of the subprime takers of the offer defaulted on their loans.

Koenig blames much of Mitsubishi's 2009 loss, one of the U.S. industry's worst years, on a sharp reduction in the number of vehicles sold to daily rental companies, primarily made up of Galants and some Lancers.

While the auto maker intends to continue fleet sales, it will do so in "a very small way," he says.

Instead, Mitsubishi is focusing on building retail sales, which Koenig and other executives know is not easy for a low-profile brand that has found itself at death's door, both here and in Japan, in recent years.

Refreshed '10 Outlander to boost sales.
"We've assured (our dealers) we're not leaving the North American market," Koenig says. "That's probably their biggest fear, because they're reading about it in various journals."

Some progress to reverse Mitsubishi's decline was made late last year, he notes, with sales of 4,357 vehicles in December building on November's 2,923.

The auto maker expects most of its near-term retail growth to result from marketing efforts for the Lancer compact car and '10 Outlander compact cross/utility vehicle, as well as select new vehicles.

"They are very competitive compact products in their segment; they're feature-packed," MMNA spokesman Maurice Durand says of the Lancer and Outlander. "We have to work hard to enhance their perception and desirability."

Koenig admits Mitsubishi has "neglected" to properly promote its Lancer Sportback variant, which launched last year and says the car will be the focus of marketing efforts this year, along with the refreshed Outlander.

Dealers have been clamoring for Mitsubishi to get back into advertising, and this year the brand has purchased spots on network TV, as well as cable channels ESPN, HGTV and Animal Planet, Koenig says.

Dealers also have been anxious for new product, and Koenig says they have come away impressed after seeing some of what's in the pipeline.

This includes a version of the RVR compact CUV, going on sale here this fall. The CUV slots below the Outlander in size and will feature a 2.0L 4-cyl. engine and other fuel-efficiency efforts, including Mitsubishi's first application of electric power steering.

The production RVR, which will bear a different name for the U.S., will be unveiled at the New York auto show in April.

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Mitsubishi's well-publicized foray into electric vehicles also will bring the i-MiEV small car to the U.S. in 2011.

MMNA CEO Shinichi Kurihara cautions volumes will be small, with sales dictated by infrastructure readiness. "We cannot spread nationwide from the first or second year."

Two years after i-MiEV's launch, Mitsubishi is planning to bring the production version of the PX-MiEV unwrapped at last year's Los Angeles auto show. The plug-in hybrid CUV is expected to overlap the Outlander in size, Durand says.

MMNA also is considering bringing the Japanese-market "i" minicar, on which the i-MiEV is based, as well as the next-generation Colt subcompact. The Colt, assembled in Europe, Japan and Taiwan, is set for a redo in 2012.

The auto maker is hoping this new range of product will attract buyers from defunct U.S. brands, such as Pontiac. Kurihara sees Pontiac's brand image similar to Mitsubishi's, as both have a youthful and sporty-driving slant.

The CEO says he intends to make sure Mitsubishi's image maintains its appeal "to the younger people...that's my goal."

Kurihara says the average age of the Lancer and Outlander compact lineup is 35, relatively young for the mature U.S. market.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      LMAO. and I thought VW's assertion they wanted to double US sales was entertaining. This one takes the cake.
      • 5 Years Ago
      As an Evo X owner. I have mixed feelings. I absoluetely love my Evo X. I have 34k miles on it and couldn't ask for more.

      The problems with Mitsubishi's are not the cars, it's the dealers. Good qualified, reputable, experienced dealers are VERY hard to find. I do all my own work including brakes, clutches, recalls all myself because I cannot trust my dealer to do a good job.

      Of course Mitsu's get a bad reliability reputation when most of the dealers I have seen don't even use the technical manuals provided to them, or even purchase some of the specialized tools neccessary to perform the mainteance.

      If Mitsu wants to better their image, start with the dealers!
        • 5 Years Ago
        This is the same with MOST car companies. VW's especially. I honestly don't believe that VWs break any more or less than any other car. The difference is that when my TrailBlazer had an issue, I took it to the dealer, they fixed it under warranty and sent me on my way. When my GTI broke, even something KNOWN to be a problem like coil packs, they would first try and act like they'd never heard of such a thing, and then try and blame me for it and say its not covered under warranty. After arguing, calling VWoA, threatening to call the BBB, they'll finally relent, but most people won't go that far. It just so happens I'm a VW enthusiast and know how cars work that I won't take their BS explanations of why something isn't covered.

        This is why, even though I've owned over 20 watercooled VWs of every gen from Mk1 to Mk4, and owning a 1980 Scirocco and an 84 GTI, when I wanted to buy a NEW car a few months back to commute in, I bought a 2010 Focus and didn't even consider a Mk6 Golf or Jetta.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Well, that seems to be a reasonable goa...

      hold on...


      100,000 vehicles PER year??? Oh never mind. Good luck with that Mitsubishi!
      • 5 Years Ago
      To me Mitsubishi has always seemed like the "Chrysler" of the japanese automakers. Once they made some very nice appealing cars but because of poor management, lack new appealing product (that don't go after niche market, think Lancer) and quality issues they are now suffering pretty bad. When my car was in the body shop my rental car for the week was a 2009 Galant ES. It was a decent car to get me from point A to point B but compared to it's competition (Fusion, Camry, Malibu, Legacy,...) this car was lacking on several levels. Mitsubishi needs to pull the same moves that Ford and GM are currently doing to "Catch Up" with the rest of the crowd.
      • 5 Years Ago
      The possible merger with Peugeot-Citroen (who wants to reenter the US marker anyway) may bring some fresh blood into the Mitsu network (branded as Mitsubishi or Peugeot/Citroen)... but that would take time ...
      • 5 Years Ago
      This car looks like a sperm whale looking for it's mother.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Mitsu sold cars when Hyundai/Kia used to be bad cars. Now that there's a cheaper and better/or equal alternative to Toyos/Hondas, why would anyone even bother to look at the substandard Mitsus? The only people who still buy Mitsus are those ignorant people who think bc it's Japanese it must be high quality. As we're finding out with Toyota, Isuzu, Suzuki, that's not true at all. Not all American cars are bad and not all Japn cars are good. Bottomline, Mitsubishi sucks the big wanker. Garbage cars!
      • 5 Years Ago
      I have read all the comments and for the most part people have no clue WTF they are talking about. Mitsubishis only problem is brand perception due to early 00s FUSO coverup and the 0/0/0 financing schemes that most automakers use it today.

      How can anyone say that current Elantra is a better car than the current Lancer??? Reality is that in the 15K-20K price range NO ONE offers high quality interiors. All use hard plastics these days. And I actually like the minimalistic approach Mitsu has taken with interior design. Why would I want millions of buttons on my dashboard when my knob, which takes a lot less space, will do all those things with multiple functions?

      Gas mileage, its something for something (you can either tune the engine for better MPGs or better performance), Mitsu Lancer shouldn't be compared with Elantra/Civic/Corolla as all of the 3 mentioned cars have totally anemic performance. Lancer should be compared with Mazda 3/base Impreza in which case their MPG to performance ratio is not that bad.

      Also, as someone mentioned, Lancer/Outlander in a lot of Australian/European/Asian/Middle Eastern markets are ranked very high, sometimes higher than the so loved here Toyota/Honda counterparts. But then again, what can a nation where NASCAR is a favorite motorsport and any idiot can get a drivers license can possibly know about cars. Its all about the badges, pretty buttons, and all of a sudden MPGs... Reality is that Mitsu should get rid of the entire Project America lineup and just offer global products.
        • 5 Years Ago
        No, not a fact, just a Subaru guy making up some BS to stroke his e-peen about his preferred marque.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Totally agree with you!

        It's simply amazing how 90% of the people posting garbage have probably never, ever, ever been by a Mitsu dealer to check their new cars...

        How can anyone say Mitsubishi is "meh in performance" when the Evo has countless facts to prove it all wrong... Go and start "googling" all the comparos and reviews of any Evo model, of any year, go and check what the aftermarket companies have achieved, go and check the Time Attack events, go and check the Bathrust events of 2009 and see 7 Evo's take top 10 places... go and check Makinen take 4 consecutive WRC events and many other 1st places by other drivers on any Rally championship.
        Or how about the Lancer Ralliart taking the IntelliChoice award for best overall sport sedan of 2009... and their latest top safety picks, and the Mitsubishi Navigation Unit taking 1st Place in customer award by JDPower, (Mitsubishi makes the Navi unit on certain Mercedes Benz as well)

        how is an Outlander GT meh in performance when it outhandles EVERY vehicle in its segment exept for the BMW X5 M..... go figure

        Sure, Mitsu needs to re-do the Eclipse and Galant and the sales and advertising I think it's all due to the ones in charge of US business (some Chrysler blood still hanging around probably) that should be all fired!

        Mitsubishi should actually leave the Country once and for all cause for the looks of it people's just not going to change their point of view (no matter how wrong they are)
        • 5 Years Ago
        Can Mitsu sell anything *besides* an Evo to a discerning customer?


        That's a fact.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I agree with you for the most part, but no one has used the 0-0-0 plan ever. The plan was such a debacle for Mitsu, no other finance company would touch it. But like I said in response to another poster, the plan is so long gone that not many people really remember what it was. Three zeros: Zero down, zero payment and zero interest for 12 months. After that its was like 8.9%. So people with questionable credit (and some with good credit, Mitsu was very lax on who'd they'd approve) could get a car and drive it a year for free, and then 13 months later their note kicks in. A lot of kids, people who don't know how to budget, would get note knock and usually end up defaulting, leaving Mitsu holding the bag on a one year old car with a bunch of miles that they haven't received a dime for. That's what broke them.

        Today, you might see an automaker offering 0% for 60 months but that is not the same thing, far from it. At least those payments start right away and are usually reserved for only the most creditworthy of applicants.
      • 5 Years Ago
      "what they need to do is bring back the Montero, make a new Diamante and find a way to make the Galant better in every way possible...."

      I own a 2006 Mitsubishi Montero Limited. And I love it.

      Purchased it new; haven't had a single problem. Thing is plush, smooth, and capable.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Im really not sure why they haven't sold well cuz frankly the lancer is a much more attractive car than many small cars on the market. Mitsubishi needs the wow factor, there line feels very stale. Its solid just stale, and its hard to put your finger on.
        • 5 Years Ago

        The lancer doesn't have sucky mileage. I get 30mpg combined and an average of 34mpg on the highway in my 2.0 GTS. Not bad for the largest compact sedan.

        For the first 15,000 miles you don't get very good mileage on Mitsu engines. They actually have a break in period. I averaged 24 MPG for the first 10,000 miles but then the MPG started getting a lot better. By 20,000 I was getting over 30mpg. I now have 40k on the engine and the only maintenance I have done is change the fluids and change the tires.

        The interior is cheap and that is really the only problem. If you take care of the car it will last far beyond 100k miles. A lot of people seem to think a car should last over 100k miles even if you treat it like crap and never change the oil.

        Mitsu needs to update the interiors of every car, freshen up the dealerships, and bring in a global small car like the Colt.

        2012 should be:
        iMiev - electric car
        Colt - GS, GT, and Ralliart
        Lancer - GS, GT, Ralliart
        Outlander - GS, GT, Hybrid
        Eclipse - back to its roots
        Galant - new design with iMiev hybrid system

        • 5 Years Ago
        Mitsubishi Lancer (Evo) is a good track car, but a handful of sport sedan sales can't keep the company afloat in the face of very strong competition from Subie, BMW, and everybody else in the marketplace. Without a strong mid-size sedan to piggyback off the Evo halo, nor a true sport coupe in the Eclipse (too big, too flabby, too fat), Mitsu has real problems.

        Mitsu needs better management and leadership - trying to be nothing to nobody isn't working.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Maybe Mitsubishi will do s.th with their lineup. Lancer doesn't look bad, but the interior looks so cheap and dated. The first thing they should do is the revise the whole lineup interior.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Here is their biggest problem: Used Mitsu's are practically worthless. I worked in the car sales before, their cars sucked as trade-ins. Sure they make nice cars, they don't retain value.

        Most of the folks that trade in their Mitsu's, never really wanted one in the first place. They bought them because they were cheaper than Honda, Toyota and Nissan. Then once they became owners they understood why. I personally know at least 10 people that owned, Gallants, Starions 3000s etc. who took big losses to get rid of the damn things.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Galant is old, they need to refresh it.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The Lancer is a mid-pack alternative. Better than the Cobalt and Sentra but that's about it.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Its all about brand perception, especially here in USA. Most people still think that Mitsubishi makes unreliable cars when in fact most statistics say otherwise. Another problem is that Mitsubishi doesn't put any money in advertising, their marketing/PR department has sucked for the past few years. It's funny how basically Mitsubishi taught Hyundai how to build cars where now it's Hyundai who can teach Mitsu how to properly market cars.

        The new Outlander and Lancer are one of the best kept secrets. They are not any worse than the "top" ranked cars in respective classes. BUT those are the only two cars that I would currently called desirable. Mitsubishis decline has a lot to do with the Project America fiasco, they should have just been selling all of their global cars here. Mitsubishi can hit 100,000 mark simply by offering more cars in all classes such as the iCar, Colt, Grandis, L200, and even Delica. There are also talks of Mitsu tieup with Peugeot Group which could help a lot with next generation small cars and Galant.

        It would be a shame for Mitsu to leave the USA market. They offer a lot of technology for the money, dual clutch transmissions, advanced 4WD systems, and reliable turbos. Considering that I can get a brand new Lancer GTS with CVT for $16.5K after all the hustling, why would I want to pay $20K for a similarly speced Corolla/Civic/Sentra/Mazda 3. Yeah I know Mitsu doesn't hold their value as well as others but then again you also pay a lot less for a lot more at the beginning, and not everyone cares about resale.
        • 5 Years Ago
        My current ride is an 02 Diamante, bought new. It's been a pretty good car -- not the best Japanese car I've had, but by no means as bad as the American cars I had back in the 80s & early 90s. Haven't really had any significant issues with the car until the last year or so. For the first six years I had it, all I had to do was change fluids & replace wear items (brakes & tires). Only now am I starting to see some more expensive issues (bad heater core, new struts, etc), so I'm about to sell it off, as I'm getting an Audi A3 TDI next month.

        The Diamante, back in the 90s when it was launched, was a pretty good Japanese copy of the BMW 5 series. A friend had one, and he & I drove the hell out of it for several years before passing it to another friend who abused it more than the two of us put together. Other friends have had Eclipses & Galants and have been quite happy with them.

        I think Mitsubishi's reputation suffered a bit from some of the sales gimmicks they used back in the late 90s & early 00s. They used to do a lot of zero-down, 0% APR financing (that's how I bought my Diamante). Nowadays, that's not so unusual as manufacturers have to compete for a diminishing market, but back then it carried a whiff of desperation.
      • 5 Years Ago
      what they need to do is bring back the Montero, make a new Diamante and find a way to make the Galant better in every way possible....
      • 5 Years Ago
      I live in Bloomington-Normal, IL- where Mitsubishi Motors of America has a manufacturing facility and holds their North American Corporate Headquarters- and I swear we have the highest concentration of Mitsubishi vehicles per capita and sq mile of anywhere....

        • 5 Years Ago
        I bet you do. But, I thought corporate HQ was still in Southern Cal.
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