After Collapse, Mitsubishi Gradually Recovers, Then Shuts Down U.S. Production?

With news that Mitsubishi is ending U.S. new vehicle production front and centre in the minds of not a single auto industry observer, one wonders how the situation devolved so quickly.
That’s not to say there are any surprises when it comes to Mitsubishi’s U.S. decline. (And remember, they’re not dead… yet.) A recall scandal tarnished the brand’s global image. Mitsubishi moved away from SUVs like the Montero, Montero Sport, and Endeavor ahead of the market’s turn toward SUVs and crossovers. Mitsubishi is reluctant to do anything more than facelift unpopular models like the Outlander. They’re unwilling to import the popular Outlander PHEV to hybrid-friendly America. They’ve utterly forsaken the midsize car market. They’ve crafted a muddled image which suggests Mitsubishi is both a performance brand (Lancer Evo) and a green brand (i-MiEV). Good news stories? Few and far between.
The results have been catastrophic.
After climbing to 345,111 U.S. sales in 2002, Mitsubishi volume fell 26 percent in 2003, the first of four consecutive years of decline for the brand. Overall U.S. auto sales fell just 1% in 2003.
Mitsubishi’s 2004 volume slipped 37 percent even as the market strengthened. In 2005, Mitsubishi sales fell another 23 percent. 2006 volume was down 4 percent before a 9 percent uptick in 2007.
After Collapse, Mitsubishi Gradually Recovers, Then Shuts Down U.S. Production?
As a recession hit in 2008, Mitsubishi sales slid 25 percent, although the overall industry was down just 18 percent that year. Mitsubishi sales then plunged to a low of 53,986 units in 2009, a 44-percent decline that was far worse than the industry’s 21-percent slide into the abyss.
2010 revealed a measure of recovery for the auto industry in America as total volume rose 11 percent. But Mitsubishi sales were up just 3 percent. A significant 42-percent surge for Mitsubishi in 2011 propelled the brand to 79,020 sales, but the brand hasn’t yet returned to that level. Only 77,643 Mitsubishis were sold in America in 2014, a 25-percent year-over-year increase and a 34-percent improvement compared with 2012.
After Collapse, Mitsubishi Gradually Recovers, Then Shuts Down U.S. Production?
The frightening figure? Mitsubishi sales in 2014, though representative of a three-year high, amounted to less than one-quarter of Mitsubishi’s sales from 2002.
Mitsubishi sold 20,000 more Galants in 2002 than they sold total vehicles in 2014. In 2003, their Outlander sales total was 2.6 times stronger than it was last year (when Outlander volume rose to a six-year high), even as the brand sold more than 61,000 copies of other SUVs.
After Collapse, Mitsubishi Gradually Recovers, Then Shuts Down U.S. Production?
Mitsubishi averaged 53,000 annual Lancer sales between 2002 and 2004 but hasn’t topped the 20K mark in any of the last four years, the 30K mark since 2007, or the 40K mark since 2004.
Mitsubishi wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire in 2002, with U.S. market share of just 2 percent, but the brand appeared to be capable of weathering storms. A dearth of new product has been a killer problem for the brand. Through the first-half of 2015, only 0.6 percent of the new vehicles sold in the United States were Mitsubishis.
After Collapse, Mitsubishi Gradually Recovers, Then Shuts Down U.S. Production?
In the near future, with plans in place to stop building vehicles in North America for North America, Mitsubishi loses another key component in its quest to be competitive. Just consider the “import” automakers which believe that it’s important to not have to always import: all of them.
The Normal, Illionois-assembled Outlander Sport is Mitsubishi’s best seller this year. Overall Mitsubishi volume is up 25 percent with Outlander Sport sales rising 17 percent to 17,893 units, 36 percent of the brand’s first-half sales.
Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.
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