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We do need to ask a fundamental question, how much Mitsubishi is enough to be able to continue to call the cars Mitsubishis? Aside from slight product revisions and reconfigurations, Mitsubishi (at least in North America) has been largely dependent on the same GS platform and 4B1 engines that date back to their long-time partnership with Chrysler (and Hyundai) in the mid '00s. Admittedly, the chassis and engines have served the company well, underpinning a wide variety of vehicles sold around the world, and seeing quite a few revisions to at least attempt to keep products competitive. But, the GS chassis is old, heavy, and severely out of date - and when matched to the underpowered 4B1 series engines - make for largely uncompetitive offerings in the market. While something like the Outlander Sport is indeed interesting compared to a Honda CR-V, it is by no means the smart choice in the segment. So, going forward, unless Mitsubishi has had a skunkworks of sorts developing their chassis and engine replacements over the past few years, what exactly are they planning to do for their bread-and-butter models?
I think the straightforward answer is without a doubt the Nissan North America parts bin. With so many of their models selling well, and for the most part, are reasonably well-reviewed, it would be quite simple to adapt the chassis and powertrain to Mitsubishi's liking to create a high-volume alternative to what is currently available now. Problem is, it forces Mitsubishi into a pretty dark and deep hole they would very likely never be able to emerge out of, spitting out rehashed Nissans that differ very little from the mainstream option. While there is definitely a case to be made for Mitsubishi rebanding models like the Altima and Frontier (more on that later), but simply taking the Nissan lineup, model for model, without major revisions does their American arm no favors in the eyes of the public. Instead, I would suggest that Mitsubishi adapt the new Nissan-Renault CMF chassis going forward, offering a wide variety of size configurations to meet their needs, and very likely cut down on development costs going forward. Using the CMF to replace the Lancer as well as the Outlander Sport would go a long way to keep the brand relevant, and in a roundabout way, serve as a back door for Renault to get back into the American market. On with the lineup!
Largely credited as Mitsubishi's turnaround product in North America, the Mirage is getting around many of my criticisms by significantly updating the car for 2016. With a revamped interior and exterior, along with a much needed mechanical refresh on the suspension and brakes, the Mirage will likely become a more acceptable form of basic transportation than it was before. Few changes would be called for here, however, I think Mitsubishi could tap an ignored portion of the market by introducing a Sport-trimmed Mirage that has a credible sense of fun about it. With a proper set of wheels and tires, an appropriately tuned suspension, and modest interior accoutrements, they could make a very good case for affordable, yet fun-to-drive transportation. The lightweight and stiff chassis is a great basis for something fun, it's past due that Mitsubishi take advantage of it.
With the CMF platform in their hands, I think Mitsubishi needs to take a page from Subaru on this effort and offer a model that can serve double-duty as a sedan and as an off-road ready crossover, using the proven model of the Impreza and XV Crosstrek. Mirroring the models pretty closely, the Lancer would serve as a volume-leading sedan, available in front or all-wheel-drive, and the Lancer Sport being a higher riding "tough" crossover with the same powertrain configurations. The key for Mitsubishi's success here would need to be an approach for making sure that there isn't a price penalty of sorts for ticking that AWD box, not separating it as a premium option. By offering slimmer choices in content, despite the more expensive powertrain, Mitsubishi would be able to better take a chunk out of Subaru sales, who offer stripper models with their robust all-weather system, and drive strong sales in northern states year round.
Mitsubishi has really lost the ghost on this model, here. The new styling is uninspired and potentially downright ugly, and the marketing between the Outlander and Outlander Sport is confusing to those who are unfamiliar with the brand. By pushing the Outlander Sport down to the Lancer line, maintaining the status quo with the midsize-ish Outlander seems like a smart idea. Again, using the larger variation of the CMF chassis, Mitsubishi should take a page from the Jeep playbook, and offer a Cherokee like crossover that is competent both on and off-road, and still offers the traditional V6 in the face of turbo-powered competitors. Like the Lancer, going in on value seems to be a smart idea here. Offering a V6, with a substantial AWD system, and a reasonable amount of space would in theory be enough to separate it from much of the competition. Keeping it simple would go a long way to bring in budget minded individuals, and making it truly capable could solidify it as a great option by comparison to many of pseudo-capable crossovers out there today.
With the SUV market literally on fire as we speak, making a reasonable investment in a Montero revitalization in the US is a safe choice. Out of the market since 2006 in the US, the Montero received a pretty modest upgrade for much of the rest of the world, but has remained largely stagnant since. Although the GC-PHEV concept from 2014 was a clear indication of the direction Mitsubishi wants to go with the SUV, admittedly, I doubt highly that much of what we saw there would (or should) make it to production. I am personally of the mind that, like the Jeep Grand Cherokee or Toyota Land Cruiser, the Mitsubishi Montero deserves to be an overly capable off-road SUV, albeit for a more affordable price. With great sight lines, and upright stance, absurdly capable 4x4 system, and a proper supercharged V6 powertrain would go a long way to make a capable, value-oriented choice in the market. At the very least, it looks like Mitsubishi is ready to deliver on this promise in it's current state, and I'm excited to see what comes of it.
Despite the mid-size segment not being what it used to be, there always seems to be room for more in this bread-and-butter segment here in the US. Avoiding the platform sharing with Nissan's kissing cousin Renault, and instead going straight for the rebadging, using the Altima to make a new Gallant seems like a quick fix to keep a sinking brand afloat a little longer. The Altima as-is isn't a bad car, perhaps a bit boring, but not bad. The styling is bland enough inside and out to take to a badge swap reasonably well, and subtle tweaks would be the only thing necessary to have Mitsubishi make the car their own. The smartest thing to do here would be to offer the car in a mono spec, offering only small options to keep costs down. Making the Gallant more or less only available as an Altima 2.5S would check off most of the options that consumers want, and would keep the Altima line busy enough cranking out Gallants alongside their own volume leader. Subtle tweaks, at least in my mind, would have to come from changes to the grille and headlamp treatment, perhaps a different set of wheels, and a much better set of tires. Better rubber would greatly improve steering feel, and in the end, at least make the Mitsubishi option seem a little more sporty - but not by much, at least to give a little room to the Altima SR out front.
At this point, calling the Mitsubishi pickup truck the "Pickup" might be more marketable than anything else. Assuming the Raider name is too damaged from the Dakota-based model from a decade ago, Triton tied too closely to Ford's powertrain line, and L200 a little too ambiguous - Pickup is an easy way to market a straightforward model in an increasingly cluttered, and increasingly luxurious market. In this case I'm calling for, you guessed it, a cheap and simple pickup offering that is more or less a rebadged Nissan Frontier. Now, the Frontier is certainly outclassed in today's mid-size truck market, and decidedly a bit too old fashioned for a lot of folks who are demanding a more car-like demeanor from their pickups. As much as I'd want to call for a back-door import of the international Navara (overall a much more refined example compared to the Frontier), a rebadged Frontier with a simplified set of configurations could set itself apart from the competition by letting the Frontier go slightly upmarket, while keeping the Pickup as a truly basic, value-priced work truck. Simply put, there aren't enough extended cab, 4x2, four-cylinder pickups on the market, and a Mitsubishi rebadge would be a good place to start. Much like the Altima, the Frontier is bland enough stylistically to take to a rebadge, and in this case, very little would need to be done to differentiate the two. Keep the Mitsubishi offerings limited to the S and SV trims, the options list short, and they could sell a reasonably cheap alternative to the Chevrolet Colorado and Toyota Tacoma.
Halo Car - Evolution, Eclipse, GTO, Starion - Other?
I'll jam this one in because of what everyone else has done. Although I don't think that this is a smart idea to pursue in the short-term, admittedly, it's the kind of marketing practice that keeps the kids coming to the showroom, and eventually sells them on a modestly equipped Lancer. Throughout the years, Mitsubishi has done a fantastic job crafting downright bonkers sports cars that have been a testbed for interesting technologies and powertrains and made their way onto the posters and into the videogames of gearheads for years to come. There would certainly be room for Mitsubishi to continue this tradition if they in fact had the capacity to develop something going forward, but as of now, almost none of that has been seen. In this instance, much like the rest, it would need to be a question of how much Mitsubishi is necessary to be a Mitsubishi, and if it were to be a halo car, if it were anything else - would it matter? Based on what I've laid out, I believe the straightforward and easy answer would be an Evolution XI, again using the Lancer as its starting point. I think a better argument could be made for the Lancer Sport Evolution IX here, as again, SUV and crossover sales are hot-hot-hot. Although Nissan might not like the in-house competition with the Nissan Juke, a crossover-sized Evolution XI would largely have a market entirely to itself. However, a more interesting option would be a spiritual successor to the 3000GT, again using the CMF platform, and the usual litany of expected Mitsubishi performance parts. A reasonably straightforward 2.0L turbo I4, a six-speed manual, S-AWC, and a fixie suspension might not be all that special. But, as a cheap alternative to the Subaru BRZ, Ford Mustang, and whatever Nissan may produce as a Z successor could, again, be an interesting choice in a reasonably fluid market. It wouldn't need to be the fastest option on the market, but something as fun as the BRZ for well-under $30K would go a long way to bring in new buyers, and that's exactly what Mitsubishi needs right now.
One last pie-in-the-sky pitch, here, the DCross. No need to sugar coat it, this one is a market transplant of the rather infamous Dacia Duster that is sold all around the world. Sold only with all-wheel-drive and the simplest of options lists, the DCross is a no-frills entry into a market that is essentially left entirely vacant. Affordable, reasonably dependable, all-wheel-drive vehicles largely don't exist in the US, and while the Wrangler once occupied that space, I think the DCross could be a very interesting spiritual replacement if marketed correctly. Keeping it cheap, and I mean cheap, would be able to undercut the Subarus and Jeeps on the market, let alone 4x4 mid-size pickups, and could potentially entice a lot of new buyers that are keen on going out to have an adventurous multi-purpose vehicle. Even better, Renault offers a version of the Duster with a pickup bed called the Oroch, and much like the SUV-like DCross, would largely have a market all to itself. Of course, a rebadge would be necessary, and it seems like a "DTruck" would be a good start.
On the achievability index, overall, I'd rate my list at about a 6 out of 10, perhaps a little more reasonable than the 2-3 out of 10 lists I've seen that rely almost entirely on sport related models. I think if the past few days have taught us anything, it is very likely that a great number of people still have an affinity for Mitsubishi, regardless of how well the company has been performing. I know I have fond memories of a pre-Evolution era with cars like the Eclipse GS-T and Gallant VR4, and even something as simple as a base-trim Mirage from the '90s. Building weird and interesting cars builds a following, it was exactly how Subaru and Mitsubishi became so popular, but without constantly innovating like Subaru had, Mitsubishi fell by the wayside. With the right kind of investment and a commitment to a specific set of ideals, I do think Mitsubishi can turn the ship around.