While attending the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb with Mitsubishi we got a chance to speak to three Mitsubishi Motors North America (MMNA) executives about the Outlander PHEV, how the brand is strengthening its lineup and how it plans to promote that.
The Outlander PHEV that's quickly and quietly rolling off lots in Japan, Europe and Australia right now is not the same model we're going to get when it arrives in Fall 2015, with MMNA Executive Vice President Don Swearingen and US PR chief Alex Fedorak telling us that "it will be completely different." It can probably be viewed as the next-generation vehicle, part of the "major restyle in 2016" that will reskin the model in the new design language being applied to the brand's crossovers.
Its hybrid system is being tuned for more refinement, and the same work being done on the interior.
Fedorak told us that, "The touchy-feely points we've been getting dinged on" will be upgraded, so expect materials feels and looks less value-oriented. We were told that the battery monitoring software mandated by California regulators doesn't just report on the state of the entire pack but rather it can monitor individual cells. As for when the anticipated hybrid will get here, Fedorak said "probably late November  is my best guess at this time." That's almost two years later than Mitsubishi's previous plans.
We aren't the only ones anxiously waiting for it. Swearingen said he invites 12 to 15 dealers to Mitsubishi's Normal, IL plant every quarter to discuss product and what consumers are looking for. Between that and the five-city tour of MMNA product for dealers, he said the second-most-common question was, "When can we get the Outlander PHEV?" The subject of the most popular question? "Trucks."
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Those dealer confabs have apparently paid dividends as recently as the 2015 Outlander Sport. Swearingen said dealers wanted "more acceleration, better fuel economy and they said it should be quieter." All of those items were delivered when it was introduced last month, Swearingen telling us that before company engineers had received the dealers' input, "We had two out of three of them." He's in discussions to bring over the 2.4-liter engine for the Outlander Sport – currently it can only be had with a 2.0-liter – and dealers are being quizzed on what they believe it would need in order to distance itself from the 2.0. The early consensus seems to be that it will definitely need more punch for overtaking maneuvers.
When Fedorak told us, "We're probably more evolving into an SUV-/crossover-type company," that got us thinking about one thing: a Montero. Look for it to arrive in Fall 2015 as perhaps the marquee example of the new SUV/crossover design language. Hints of that are probably contained in the faces of the GC-PHEV and XR-PHEV concepts.
Even so, there will still be more cars than crossovers in the near term. As they move into their next generations, the cars will get a family design language distinct from the crossovers, which we'll see on the next Lancer and the "sleek, aerodynamic reskin" coming for the 2016-model-year Mirage hatchback. Speaking of the Mirage, Swearingen said, "The magazines beat us up about it," (Consumer Reports is the latest) "but with just 400 dealers, we're outselling the [Mazda] Mazda2 and the [Toyota] Yaris." The Yaris is actually ahead this year, but only by 265 units through the end of June. It appears all but done that the Mirage sedan will come here, under the G4 name it employs in Canada instead of the Attrage moniker it uses elsewhere.
It is Francine Harsini, MMNA's director of marketing, who's working on getting the word out. After doubling the marketing spend last year to introduce the Outlander and Mirage, Swearingen said he told dealers that it would stay at the same level this year even without any launches, and adding "I would expect to grow that." Harsini said MMNA doesn't have the dollars to push each model line individually, so later this year they'll launch a new campaign for the brand using the "Find your own lane" tag that was created for the Outlander, and push the brand pillars of, "Progressive technology, spirited design and safety, value and reliability." We were told it would also be "going more into lifestyle" advertising.
Fedorak - who's been in the job eight weeks and whose resume includes work at Subaru and Kia - believes feature-per-dollar is an important part of Mitsubishi's pitch; comparing the feature set on his personal vehicle, a German luxury crossover, to those on his company Outlander, he says of the Mitsubishi, "There are strong reasons to buy."