Evolution and the Big Implosion – Mitsubishi, We Miss You

1 Dec

Mitsubishi is going through a bit of an identity crisis right now. No one quite knows what they are, least of which, it seems, are the folks on the inside. With ever increasing competition from the Korean manufacturers and with their rival Japanese firms larger, and better established, Mitsubishi has its work cut out for it. This is nothing new for Mitsubishi of course, as its been this way there, seemingly, for the last 20 years or so. Plugging along with much of a foothold in the marketplace to call their own. They make fine products I am sure, people just don’t know about them. This is what happens when a weak global economy meets increased competition, meets changing motorsport series that do not really have a place for their products (except perhaps the Paris Dakar). Instead of refining their brand, they’ve seem to have lost the recipe book. They have always bitten off a bit more than they could chew from time to time (did the world really need a $70k 3000GT VR4 Convertible?). But they had some solid ideas that they exploited. As the economy shifted, so did they, seemingly downward. Mitsubishi never was a ‘sports’ car company, in the way Porsche or Ferrari is. They’ve always been a firm that built affordable cars for the average consumer. But they also had something for the sporting set as well. Going from building a fast, relatively simple enthusiast car (in the form of their turbocharged Eclipse series of the early/mid 90’s here in the US and the early Lancer Evo’s elswhere), to leasing excess inventory cars to anyone with a pen (remember how many late 90’s-mid 2000’s Galants there were on the road?).

In the 90’s, WRC was an obvious place for a manufacturer to showcase their prowess. Major manufacturers such as Ford and Toyota went head to head with smaller firms, such as Subaru and Mitsubishi, on a global stage. Competition surely improves the breed, and the Lancer Evo certainly developed quickly. Each successive model had many selling their previous ones to get into the newest one. The cars got faster, but more capable, styling grew a bit more garish, but very much in keeping with the boy-racer times. But then of course, things began to change the world over. The WRC became too expensive for many, and the 2 cult heroes, Mitsubishi and Subaru, bowed out. Subaru and Mitsubishi both stayed in the rally game, continuing to put development into the Group N series. Mitsubishi ran out of steam however by comparison. Subaru used their STi Motorsports arm and continued to develop street parts and accessories for the road going versions of competition cars. Mitsubishi basically stopped. Their motorsport arm, Ralliart, becoming a shrinking version of its former self.

Now, many will argue the “Spirit of Competition” is still alive and well in the Evo X. It’s a great car, no doubt about it. But like other cars that were released in the midst of the global financial collapse, it hasn’t exactly set the world on fire. They tried to shift things around a bit with the introduction of the Lancer Ralliart. A good move on the surface. Make the Evo the “halo”, and give people an entry point to that brand. A car that, marketed correctly, could give a WRX a run for the affordable enthusiast’s money. But how many people actually know about it, enough to consider it? How many do YOU see on the road compared to 08-12 WRX’s? Exactly. They sorta launched it and ignored it. The Evo’s little brother is an also-ran. And the Evo itself is similarly dying on the vine compared to their chief rival – the WRX-STi

At one point in time, Mitsubishi seemingly had started on their road of brand development. The term Evolution, in and of itself, has terrific cache. People know what it means without it being considered in the realm of the automobile. Those who are ‘petrol heads’, know the label because iconic cars have worn it on their trunk lids. They could, but so far have failed to, capitalize on the term “Evo” in the eyes of the general public. While a name in and of itself does not guarantee a successful or desirable product, it does represent a big hurdle to overcome. The sizzle sells the steak. Haagen-Daaz is an iconic brand. Perhaps you think it’s the founders names? Or the town where the iconic ice cream was founded? Nope, it’s 2 totally made up words. The company was started by Polish immigrants in the Brownsville section of the Bronx. Manufacturers pay millions upon millions of dollars to research, change, focus-group to come up with a marketable name. Mitsubishi has one that could work. Despite not having much to write home about in the rest of the model range, Evo’s still command pretty big money in the used car market. People want the car, people know it’s a good car, people know what an Evolution is. Let’s hope the in and outside marketing teams at Mitsubishi come together, dig their heels in, get to their drawing boards, and Evolution-ize their product line over the next model cycle.

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