Is the end near for Mitsubishi in the United States?
24/7 Wall Street, an online company that delivers financial news and opinion over the Internet, thinks so.
Last spring, 24/7 Wall Street issued a report naming 10 brands that will disappear in 2014, among them two automobile nameplates: Mitsubishi and Volvo.
“Car sales are growing in the United States,” the report stated, “but brands with market shares under half a percent cannot compete with companies that either produce high-luxury models like Mercedes-Benz or multiline giants like General Motors. Suzuki pulled out of the American market last year. Mitsubishi and Volvo will follow soon.”
It's not the first time the end of Mitsubishi's run in the U.S. has been forecast. But somehow the Japanese automaker keeps plugging on.
The company recently reported a jump of 24.3 percent in sales through August over the figures for August 2012, which looks real good until you examine the hard numbers. It’s easy to get an impressive percentage increase when your base number is low, as is Mitsubishi’s.
Total Mitsubishi sales for the month were 5,281 vehicles. Toyota, meanwhile, reported total sales of over 231,500 vehicles including Scion and Lexus models, and 23,502 alone just for the RAV4, one of the Outlander’s chief competitors.
Still, an increase is an increase and indicates that all is not gloom and doom for Mitsubishi in the U.S, at least for now. Success in the Asian market does provide some support.
One of the company’s success stories on these shores is its Outlander crossover SUV, which went through an extensive redesign for 2014.
Styling is new inside and out, it is equipped with enough safety features to earn a “top pick” from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and it comes with a choice of two-wheel or all-wheel drive and an economical four-cylinder or V6 power plant.
Pricing for the Outloander in the very crowded small crossover SUV segment is very competitive as well, with an MSRP of $23,820 for the ES or base model and continuing to $28,720 for the top-of-the-line V6 GT trim with AWD. (Prices include $825 for destination and delivery.)
You can get higher quickly adding options, of course.
A middle-of-the-lineup SE with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive will set you back $30,720 when equipped with good stuff like a navigation system, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning system, forward collision mitigation, leather seats, premium sound system with Sirius satellite radio, power adjustable driver’s seat, power rear liftgate, and auto on/off headlamps.
Those are nice features to have, though, and give the Outlander an edge on the opposition.
Unlike some of its competitors, Mitsubishi has elected to stay with third-row seating for the Outlander, though the back row isn’t all that big (it’s pretty much for kids only) and does cut back on storage space. With both of the third-row seats folded, you get 34.2 cubic feet of storage space. With them in place, you get a little less than a third of that.
A big plus is that the back-row seats fold flat with the tug of a strap. You lift on another strap to put them back in place. Simple and efficient.
Designers have given the Outlander’s a more conventional exterior appearance, which is both good and bad.
It’s good in that a radical approach can be polarizing. If it doesn’t catch on, it can be a sales disaster.
It’s bad in that the Outlander needs something to make it stand out from its competitors. Being “as good-looking” as others in the field, which it is, isn’t the same as being “better-looking.”
Upgrades to the interior, on the other hand, are an unquestioned success. The Outlander isn’t in the luxury class, but the materials are a couple of steps up from the cheap plastics often used when designers are trying to cut costs to attract the budget-minded buyer.
Options like leather seats and wood-grain door trim and instrument panels (standard on the top-of-the-line GT) give the cabin a touch of class.
Controls for functions like the radio and A/C are simple enough to operate, and the optional navigation system, too, doesn’t require you to dig deep into the owner’s manual for instructions on how to, say, change the map’s scale.
A button labeled “ZOOM” on the right of the screen is used for that. If there is a complaint about the nav system, however, it is that the screen is a bit on the small side, but it’s not tiny.
Clearly marked buttons are used for other functions as well, such as setting the Eco mode for better fuel mileage. You might want to find out early one where the button is to turn off the lane departure warning system because it is overly sensitive, seeming to beep at the slightest variation to your driving line.
A CVT (continuously variable transmission) is standard on ES and SE trims, which helps boost fuel mileage to 25 miles-per-gallon in the city and 31 on the highway. With horsepower topping out at 166 and torque at 162 pound-feet with the four-cylinder engine in the ES and SE, the CVT does tend to make the Outlander labor at getting up to speed.
The CVT does have one nice feature. When the gear shift is moved to Ds mode, revs are kept higher, which gives the four-cylinder engine a little more punch when accelerating and also serves to slow the vehicle with engine braking, such as when you are downshifting with a manual transmission.
The GT version with the V6 (224 hp, 215 lb.-ft. of torque) gets a six-speed automatic transmission with manual gear selection via either the shift lever on the console or steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Fuel figures with the V6 drop to 20 mpg city, 28 highway.
There’s also a plug-in hybrid power train planned for the Outlander to be introduced sometime next year, assuming all the bugs in the proposed model are taken care of, if they haven’t already been.
Thus Mitsubishi doesn’t look like a company that’s getting ready to pull out of the North American market any time soon then.
Keep in mind 24/7 Wall Street wasn’t perfect with its call on 10 brands bound for extinction a year ago. The Oakland Raiders, for example, are still around (barely), and so is American Airlines, though a merger with U.S. Airways helped its survival.
Perhaps, as with Mark Twain, reports of Mitsubishi’s death in the U.S. market have been greatly exaggerated.