Mitsubishi’s Lancer has been a victim of our obsession with SUVs. Picture: Supplied
Mitsubishi’s Lancer has been a victim of our obsession with SUVs. Picture: Supplied

Brand turns its back on passenger cars

Is this the beginning of the end for the car as we know it?

Mitsubishi has declared it has no real interest in selling passenger cars in Australia, preferring to concentrate solely on SUVs and utes.

Mitsubishi global chief operating officer Ashwani Gupta says the brand will concentrate on three core products in Australia: the Outlander SUV, Triton ute and Pajero Sport, a rugged off-roader that shares the Triton platform.

For now, the brand will keep selling the Mirage city car - in very small volumes - as well as the best-selling ASX city SUV.

However, the once popular Lancer hatchback won't be replaced.

Mitsubishi’s Lancer hatch was a top-seller but Australians’ obsession with SUVs has killed it off. Picture: Supplied
Mitsubishi’s Lancer hatch was a top-seller but Australians’ obsession with SUVs has killed it off. Picture: Supplied

"We want to focus on our core products - that's SUV, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, four-wheel drives and pick-up trucks," he says.

It's a big call for a brand that once built family sedans in Adelaide. There are growing signs it won't be on its own in turning its back on hatchbacks.

Mitsubishi's Alliance partner, Nissan, no longer sells a small car in Australia, having dumped the Micra and Pulsar, as well as the larger Altima.

Last month, Mitsubishi sold just 25 Mirages, while Nissan sold 15 370Zs and one GT-R. The other partner in the Alliance, Renault, sold fewer than 100 cars.

"The Australian customer is not the same as the customers we have in the rest of the world," Gupta says.

"In 2014 passenger cars were contributing to 69 per cent of the local market and SUVs and trucks were 31 per cent. Today 70 per cent is SUVs and trucks and 30 per cent are passenger cars."

Mitsubishi ASX: SUVs are taking over and it is among the top sellers. Picture: Thomas Wielecki.
Mitsubishi ASX: SUVs are taking over and it is among the top sellers. Picture: Thomas Wielecki.

Hatchbacks such as the Toyota Corolla and Mazda3, which themselves dethroned the large family sedan as Australia's most popular choice of vehicle, have since been overtaken by the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger utes.

Sales of the new model Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla haven't been as strong as their predecessors because they've been cannibalised by their SUV stablemates the CX-3, CX-5, RAV4 and C-HR.

The no-hatchback strategy is working well for Mitsubishi, whose SUV sales have this year overtaken Mazda's. Only Toyota sells more SUVs.

The success comes despite the fact that Mitsubishi's current local line-up of SUVs is widely regarded as ageing and off-the-pace for driving dynamics and technology.

Mitsubishi has defended its ageing line-up. Picture: Thomas Wielecki.
Mitsubishi has defended its ageing line-up. Picture: Thomas Wielecki.

Gupta says: "Nowhere is a customer giving us feedback that this is old. When customers are happy, why should we touch it?"

He says the availability of a more powerful 2.4-litre engine in the ASX from next month will cement its position at the top of the city SUV market.

And he confirmed Nissan, Mitsubishi and Renault would share a common platform for mid-size and large SUVS, which currently includes models such as Outlander, Nissan's X-Trail and Pathfinder and Renault's Koleos.


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