Mitsubishi eager to prove its potential

Mitsubishi eager to prove its potential

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O’Brien Mitsubishi of Normal is ready to tell a story with the new Outlander PHEV.

The plug-in hybrid crossover is in the Illinois dealership’s showroom, where it’s hooked to a “tailgate package” of home electronics such as TV and blenders to showcase the capabilities of the brand’s latest entry, which is infusing some energy into a lineup longing for fresh products. The store received its first shipment last week, and its president, Ryan Gremore, thinks the active-lifestyle message will hit home.

“I believe the car is going to tell a story about what Mitsubishi is capable of,” said Gremore, a member of Mitsubishi’s dealer advisory board.

The Japanese brand, now forging ahead as part of the Renault-Nissan- Mitsubishi Alliance, is ready to turn the page on a rough stretch with the help of the Outlander PHEV and Eclipse Cross — a compact, coupelike crossover that will compete against the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. The Outlander PHEV began trickling into stores in December, while the Eclipse Cross arrives in March.

But there are some holes in the storyline, dealers say — product gaps that need to be filled.

On the wish list? A bigger crossover and a pickup for the U.S.

“We build a wonderful small truck that we don’t sell in the United States because of the chicken tax, the L200/Triton. We have engineering geniuses building things we need that we can’t sell here,” said Gremore.

“We need a bigger midsize CUV, bigger than Outlander that has third-row capabilities,” he adds. “We get that going, we may start seeing the 200,000 sales come sooner than later.”

Mitsubishi sold 103,686 vehicles in the U.S. last year — the first time it topped 100,000 since 2007 — up 7.7 percent from a year earlier. In a three-year plan unveiled in October, the automaker said it’s looking to hit 130,000 sales a year by the end of that period, with a lift from the Outlander PHEV and Eclipse Cross.

To do that, Mitsubishi will need to get the most from its stores, and it’s offering to help underperforming dealers who are willing to stretch to reach their sales targets.

Mitsubishi deploys experts on dealership operations as part of its “cure” program to help them form game plans and improve.

Swearingen: Dealers on notice

Other dealers may re-evaluate their future with Mitsubishi and decide to sell, said Don Swearingen, COO of Mitsubishi Motors North America.

Mitsubishi is matching its ambitious sales expectations with “more aggressive rewards,” Swearingen said, pointing to volume-based “monetary incentives.”

“We want everybody in the game,” Swearingen told Automotive News. “We put them on notice that we want them to succeed, or we’d like them to find a buyer. We’ve been very consistent with that.”

Kinney Galani, owner of Planet Mitsubishi in Hempstead, N.Y., thinks Mitsubishi’s target for his store is unrealistic. He’s surrounded by volume players such as Honda and Toyota and says he can’t do much better than the 10 to 15 vehicles he sells per month.

Swearingen said he’s hearing of customer fervor around the Outlander PHEV that he hasn’t heard in years for a Mitsubishi product. Some stores, he said, are selling the vehicles before they arrive on lots.

In a call with dealers, Swearingen said many had a common question: How do I get more Outlander PHEVs?

Swearingen said the vehicle could be a halo for the brand.

When the Eclipse Cross arrives, Mitsubishi thinks it will appeal across generations. Swearingen said the company learned through product clinics that active professionals and empty nesters will be two niches to watch because of the vehicle’s styling, safety features and versatility.

The brand is returning to prime-time network TV with the Eclipse Cross for the first time in a decade.

“Digital is great, but the consumer has to know your name to go out there and start researching your product using digital formats,” Swearingen said. “We still believe it’s very important for us to advertise on television.”

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