You know a manufacturer is having trouble when it begins a news conference not with the unveiling of a new product but with a promise that it isn’t about to leave the market. But few were surprised by the approach taken when Mitsubishi’s U.S. chief executive opened things up at the LA Auto Show this week.
The Japanese maker has had some serious problems in recent years. A flawed strategy aimed at bringing in young, first-time buyers backfired, running up $100s of millions in losses. And a number of recent products flopped, notably including the now-abandoned Eclipse sports coupe. In fact, Mitsubishi is all but starting over, walking away from a number of once-popular nameplates.
Its problems were serious enough that only a major bailout kept the Japanese parent alive, in fact. Now, with Suzuki announcing plans to abandon the U.S. after years of crumbling sales, the spotlight is on Mitsubishi, many analysts predicting it could be next to give up on the market.
Not so fast, proclaimed CEO Yoichi Yokazawa, telling a crowd of journalists, “Mitsubishi is as committed to North America as ever,” before unveiling several products intended to help it regain some positive momentum.
The most important offering is the new 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander, the biggest of its crossover-utility vehicles. But the LA Auto Show preview also saw the introduction of a Limited-Edition Outlander Sport model. Meanwhile, Yokazawa also revealed that the maker will bring a new plug-in hybrid version of the Outlander to market for 2014 – expanding its line of battery-based vehicles.
The 2014 Outlander gets a new and sleeker appearance. It also undergoes some lightweighting, an industry buzzword for slashing mass. By turning to more high-strength steel, among other things, the next-generation CUV drops an impressive 200 pounds.
Under the hood, the 7-seat, 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander will be powered by a 2.4-liter inline-four mated to a new CVT gearbox. The maker hasn’t released specific numbers but asserts the package will result in segment-leading mileage.
As with so many competitive models, fuel economy might be the most important selling point, but high-tech features follow close behind. On the convenience side, the new crossover gets a power liftgate and a dual-zone climate control system.
Safety features include seven airbags, Advanced Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning and Active Cruise Control.
As for the Limited Edition Outlander Sport, it’s also meant to convey the idea that Mitsubishi is here to stay, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the brand’s arrival on U.S. shores. (Prior to that, Mitsubishi products had been sold through the various brands of its former American partner, Chrysler.)
Mitsubishi officials describe the look of the Outlander Sport Limited Edition as “distinctly ominous, thanks to its blackout side mirrors, center bumper, wheel arch trim and roof rails, accompanied by special argent Limited Edition alloy wheels. The interior receives the same foreboding treatment with available two-tone Dove Grey and Black leather seating surfaces.”
The special commemorative model also features some modest performance enhancements and a bump up to 31 mpg highway fuel economy. The base price will be $23,495.
Oh, and if the new products weren’t enough to convince the audience of skeptical journalists, the maker had other ways of perking things up. It ended its LA Auto Show event by trotting out members of the USC Trojans marching band and cheerleaders.
Tags: 2012 LA auto show, 2014 mitsubishi outland, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, auto news, car news, mitsubishi, mitsubishi i-miev, mitsubishi la auto show, mitsubishi motors, mitsubishi outlander, mitsubishi phev, paul a. eisenstein, thedetroitbureau