The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many businesses, resulting in layoffs, relocations, and outright closures. Mitsubishi, one of the smaller automakers in Canada, believes, however, that a rebound is in the cards.
Mitsubishi has a reason for this upbeat attitude. They saw a steady streak of success before the novel coronavirus shut things down around the world. The growth over the past two years has been impressive, and the first few months of 2020 saw the kind of progress that made Juyu Jeon, Mitsubishi Motors Canada President and CEO, hopeful for the future. “These are exciting times for Mitsubishi,” said Jeon, “We are changing the face of Mitsubishi in Canada.”
This change revolves around the one-two punch of the Eclipse Cross and Outlander PHEV, which have been well received in the Great White North. One in five Mitsubishis sold is an Eclipse Cross, and 74 per cent of those buyers are new to the brand. The Outlander PHEV is also bringing customers into the showroom – 89 per cent of its buyers are new to the brand. These two products have created a surge of interest in the Mitsubishi brand, and the company is ready to capitalize on its growth.
First to market
A sensation around the world, the Outlander PHEV was also the first mainstream plug-in crossover available to Canadian drivers – and remained their only option in the segment until the Toyota RAV4 Prime showed up halfway through 2020, followed by the Ford Escape PHEV.
That is, on paper at least. Toyota has a long list of buyers eager to get into its new vehicle, who are instead getting long wait times. The Ford Escape PHEV has been delayed due to safety concerns. (Another contender, the Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid, is currently only available in La Belle Province, alas.) That leaves the Outlander PHEV as the sole proven, practical, and readily available choice for buyers in the market right now.
“We learned with Outlander PHEV, we may be small player, but we can still make an impact,” said Jeon.
The Eclipse Cross also filled a particular niche, slotting in between subcompact and compact to maximize utility while still being easy to manoeuvre in a busy parking lot. Mitsubishi anticipated that the demographic of Eclipse Cross buyers would be similar to their old compact sedan, the Lancer; but it turned out the product appealed to a completely different crowd. While compact cars like the Lancer mainly attract young drivers in and around city centres, the Eclipse Cross proved to be a hit with suburban shoppers, empty nesters, and female drivers. They also had a much higher household income than Mitsubishi’s typical buyer.
“[Customers] wanted a car that was fun to drive [and] had style and technology,” explained Jeon. These traits are in addition to the usual Mitsubishi pillars of all-wheel drive, good value, and a reliable warranty. “We realized that Mitsubishi can attract a more demanding customer, someone who wants more quality and innovation,” he added.
For 2021 and beyond, the automaker is building on the lessons learned from these surprise successes. “Once you understand what the customer needs and wants, you can look at the product,” said Jeon.
The automaker has a robust post-launch plan, surveying buyers and prospective customers about why they did (or didn’t) purchase a vehicle. The relatively small size of Mitsubishi Canada means that this feedback can go right to the Research and Development team, which can make changes to address the market. “We need to be pragmatic,” said Jeon. “The strength of being a small player is that we are nimble.”
Take a look at the recently revealed 2022 Eclipse Cross, which is redesigned not only with a new exterior style, but a whole new interior that reflects what drivers are asking for. Gone is the touchpad; the new infotainment system is based around a touchscreen that users interact with directly. There is more cargo and passenger room, thanks to a growth spurt that adds 140 mm to the overall length.
While the engine is the same 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that punches above its weight with 152 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, the ride and handling have been refined to better suit the drivers showing up in Mitsubishi’s showrooms. Now that Mitsubishi has a better understanding of who is buying the Eclipse Cross, they can tailor a product specifically to that buyer and attract others like them.
The next step is with the all-new Outlander debuting early next year – the big story here involves Mitsubishi’s alliance with Nissan and Renault. Mitsubishi became a part of the alliance four years ago, but its participation hasn’t shown any advantages here in North America. That is changing with the arrival of the new 2022 Outlander.
Riding on an Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi Alliance platform, there’s a chance the Outlander will continue to surprise, and not just with the PHEV model. Given the positive critical response to Nissan’s latest products, especially the Rogue, the Outlander has a lot to gain from sharing costs and resources with its partners. “There’s a whole new generation of Mitsubishi on the way,” says Jeon. “Our product lineup is going into a new direction early next year and we are leveraging our resources to address a rebound. We are evolving the brand.”
Timing the rebound
Those upgrades to the product lineup will arrive as the world opens back up. As shoppers return to the showroom, Mitsubishi will have a fresh lineup full of positive engagement from previous customers.
“Our current game plan is to rebound, reset, and re-energize,” explained Jeon. “We’ve seen the markets rebounding, we’ve had to reset a lot of things. Our focal point now is how we’ll re-energize.”
While COVID-19 has left many companies in a rough position, Mitsubishi is looking confident, seeing this as an opportunity to re-establish itself as a key player in the Canadian market.
Pricing: 2022 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross
ES S-AWC: $28,598. Key features: all-wheel drive, eight-inch infotainment, forward collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, automatic headlights, rain sensing wipers, heated front seats, remote keyless entry, and rear roof spoiler.
SE S-AWC: $31,218. Includes ES features, plus: leather-wrapped heated steering wheel, LED fog lights, automatic high-beam, blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, dual climate control, keyless start, power folding exterior mirrors.
SEL S-AWC: $34,218. Includes SE features, plus: lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, 360-degree multi-view camera, head up display, faux suede and leather upholstery, auto-diming rearview mirror, power driver’s seat, heated rear seats, and LED headlights.
GT S-AWC: $36,998. Includes SEL features, plus: TomTom GPS navigation, eight-speaker audio system, power front passenger seat, leather upholstery, and panoramic roof.
The 2022 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross is expected to arrive in early 2021.