Thursday, August 23, 2007

Mitsubishi's Questionable Future

The Raider pickup is expected to be dropped after the 2008 model year.

The redesigned Outlander crossover and entry-level Lancer sedan have helped fuel a rebound in Mitsubishi's U.S. sales.

But U.S. dealers were not impressed with sketches of the 2009 Galant sedan and Endeavor crossover at dealer meetings this year in Japan and the United States.

"We all gave them the thumbs down," said one dealer. He said those models basically only get new bumpers.

"It's like putting perfume on a pig," he said. "Like changing your fingernail color."

Dealers were counting on radical changes for the Galant and Endeavor to help keep the brand's sales momentum. Mitsubishi sources say dealers saw freshened models, not the redesigns coming later.

Lancer: The Lancer has been redesigned for the 2008 model year, and sales began in the spring. The Lancer is the first Mitsubishi sold in this country with a continuously variable transmission.

The redesigned high-performance Lancer Evolution is the big news. Sales begin next year. The 10th-generation Evo will have a new 300-plus-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. A dual-clutch automated six-speed manual transmission will be offered, along with all-wheel drive.

"The Lancer architecture will be the star for Mitsubishi in the coming years," a company source said. "There will be lots of flavors of Lancer."

An optional turbocharged four-cylinder engine is expected for non-Evolution models. The company plans to add a Lancer hatchback for the 2009 model year. A diesel will be available in 2010.

Eclipse: A freshening is scheduled for the 2011 model year. Plans include updated styling and a power boost.

Galant: The mid-sized sedan will be reskinned for the 2009 model year.

The date for the redesign is unclear. Sources say a stretched version of the automaker's C platform may be used. That platform is used for the Lancer and Outlander.

Mitsubishi may follow Chrysler's path. Chrysler and Mitsubishi initially worked together to develop the C platform until DaimlerChrysler cut its stake in Mitsubishi. Then Chrysler went its separate way, developing two sizes of vehicles with its version of the platform: the Dodge Caliber, Jeep Compass and Patriot and the larger Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger.

Pajero Pinin: This is a smaller version of the Pajero SUV that is sold in Europe and Japan. Mitsubishi may export this small vehicle to the United States after it is redesigned around the 2011 model year. It will be bigger and more powerful than the current model.

Outlander: For the 2008 model year, Mitsubishi will add its version of the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine it co-developed with DaimlerChrysler and Hyundai. Previously, only a 3.0-liter V-6 was offered. A diesel will be available for the 2010 model year.

Endeavor: The crossover is scheduled for a freshening for the 2009 model year, but the Endeavor may be killed around the 2011 or 2012 model year.

Montero: This SUV was killed at the end of the 2006 model year because Mitsubishi did not have the budget to meet U.S. regulations. The Montero may return as a 2011 model.

Raider: The pickup, which is based on the Dodge Dakota, arrived in the 2006 model year but has been a bust for Mitsubishi. After the 2008 model year, when the three-year contract expires, sources say the Raider will fade away.

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