Thursday, July 14, 2016

Nissan Gains Control of a Hopeless Car Company


Alexander Carabitses





Before the automotive media had time to fully digest the news that Mitsubishi had misinformed customers in Japan about the fuel efficiency of their cars, Nissan stepped in to buy a controlling stake in Mitsubishi Motors.  So I guess that this makes Mitsubishi a part of the Renault Nissan family, which includes the following brands: Renault, Nissan, Datsun, Dacia, Infiniti, and Renault Trucks. The first two brands on that list are mainstream brands, while the second two are budget car brands (one to compliment each mainstream brand) and the last two brands are self-explanatory.  This ultimately begs the following questions: 1) Why the hell did Nissan buy Mitsubishi? and 2) Where will this brand strategically fit in the company's portfolio?

There is one answer that can be applied to both of these questions: The executives who approved of this purchase never thought the whole thing through, logically.  About a year ago, one could have made the argument that Nissan wanted an even bigger share of the Japanese Kei car (think Nissan Cube) market that Mitsubishi was so successful with.  However, given the recent news about Mitsubishi overstating their vehicles' fuel economy in a country that is very environmentally conscious, Nissan may as well kiss that argument goodbye.  Oh, did I mention that Japan was probably Mitsubishi's strongest market?  I bet that up until Nissan came to the rescue, 85% of people involved in the industry were hoping that the brand would perish; the remaining 15% is split: 10% is made up by those who actually work for the company to support their families, while other 5% is made up of enthusiasts that remember the days when Mitsubishi actually made desirable, sporty cars.  The fact of the matter is that Mitsubishi hasn't introduced a single good car since the Evo X, nearly a decade ago.  Also, that car has just recently been killed off as the brand shifts its focus to making green cars and cars that challenge Subaru.  Each path is equally ridiculous, as green cars are selling like crap and Subaru has a cult following that Mitsubishi will never be a part of.

The curent stream of products from Mitsubishi highlight the brand's problem.  In the 2014-2015 auto show season, Mitsubishi showed off two radical concept cars that were suppose to showcase the future design direction of the brand.  Then, at the 2015 New York Auto Show, Mitsubishi rolled out a facelifted Outlander, of which the front end looked more chrome laden than a 1950s American car.  Two of the brand's senior executives touted the crossover's 100 new parts and then took a selfie with the car at the end of the press conference and tweeted it.  The problem with this, is that the only people who follow Mitsubishi on Twitter are Lancer Evolution owners, Eclipse owners, 3000GT owners, and Starion owners.  None of these cars are made anymore, and I find it doubtful that anybody who owns these cars will want to buy an Outlander; they'd probably buy any other mainstream crossover.  These people are also probably somewhat pissed at Mitsubishi for ditching their sports car heritage altogether.  They don't care about the botched up Outlander Sport refresh, the half-ass facelift of the Lancer, or the refreshed clown car...I mean Mirage (and the new Mirage G4 sedan for that matter), even though the latter is responsible for the brand's recent sales increase in this market.

Now Nissan owns this pathetic brand and has to focus on rebuilding it, as if it didn't already have enough on its plate with its efforts to improve Infiniti's image. In my mind, the best thing to do would be for Nissan to replace Mitsubishi's current lineup with rebadged and slightly restyled versions of the Altima, Rouge, and several other models, as Mitsubishi clearly can't design a good car on its own. However, I can't stress enough that there is a 50/50 chance that this will work.  People may recognize the cars as Nissans and realize that they can practically buy a new Nissan for a steal, therefor boosting the brand's popularity.  However, there is also a chance that once people recognize the vehicles as Nissans, they'll simply scoff at them and realize that if they spend just a bit more money, they can actually have the real thing.  Even if people don't recognize these vehicles as Nissans, they could still scoff at them because they are Mitsubishis after all, and generally, it seems to me that people who buy these cars A) Buy one because it's all they can afford B) Hate cars so much that they don't care about what they drive, and C) Have near perfect self confidence and don't mind being judged for driving one of these things. This is quite an obscure customer base if you ask me, and to make things worse, we have witnessed two other budget car brands go the way of the dodo in the US, as Scion is dead and Suzuki left the US market in 2012 (despite being the most under-rated car brand in this country, next to Mazda).

In the end, part of me feels like Mitsubishi is in between a rock and a hard place.  They're damned if they make rebadged Nissans and they're damned if they don't. Now Nissan has two brands to fix, and we can all agree that only one of them is worth fixing.  Mitsubishi once made some nice, fun, sporty cars, but seeing as how it's completely ignoring its heritage and is struggling everywhere in the world, while also blowing it in its best/home market, it is quite clear that it is worthless and should have been left for dead.

Thanks for reading and have a good week.

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