The image of Mitsubishi Motor Corporation (MMC) has seen a dramatic change in the last 20 years, primarily because of its withdrawal from the World Rally Championship with its Lancer Evolution models in 2004, the economic downturn and changes to World Rally Championship entry rules. And also because of new technologies.
Since the early 1980s, Mitsubishi has been perceived by the media and car market as a middle-of-the-line brand that, while they don’t sell relatively inexpensive cars, have made exceptionally tough, supportive and safe vehicles; the Shogun/Pajero 4×4 becoming a household name since its inception for its capabilities and off-road credentials.
This image was reinforced thanks to being the most successful manufacturer in the Dakar rally and success in the World Rally Championship from 1973 to 2004. Particularly the 1990s and early-2000s, which saw the Japanese car maker win four consecutive drivers’ championships from 1996-1999 (including the WRC Manufacturers’ championship in 1998) and a total of 34 WRC rally events since 1973.
This rallying heritage helped solidify the brand’s reputation as robust and fast while incorporating the skills and knowledge from their motorsport success into the road-going models. It also elevated Mitsubishi as a brand for ‘petrolheads’ and gave its Ralliart performance subdivision a cult following among car enthusiasts – something that still exists to this day with Ralliart clothing and accessories still on sale.
However, since Mitsubishi’s withdrawal from the WRC at the end of 2005 due to spiralling costs and a decline in competitiveness, the manufacturer has struggled to maintain its motorsport heritage image and lost their path altogether.
As demonstrated by this advert, from 2006 to 2010 Mitsubishi were desperately trying to hold on to its motorsport heritage through the launch of the then-new Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X, but they had no motorsport competition to back up the claims. From 2010 to 2012, Mitsubishi didn’t know entirely what they wanted to be at all or how they wanted to be perceived by the media or in the car market.
However, in 2013 it became apparent Mitsubishi wanted to adapt to present economic demands and focus on building SUVs in the plug-in hybrid and electric vehicle sector. They launched the Outlander PHEV last year – the company’s first plug-in hybrid crossover SUV – and with cars such as the GC-PHEV, XR-PHEV and AR fuel-sipping SUV concepts, it’s clearly evident where the Japanese car firm are taking themselves and that they want their image to evolve from the tough motorsport heritage to a brand that is spearheading hybrid and electric technology with its core products.
As Mitsubishi Motors president, Osamu Masuko, stated last year “We would like to actually realise a very reliable, reassuring, trustworthy and powerful identity. Our image at the moment is relatively speaking not refined, but tough, safe and reassuring, although it might not be perfect.” (1)
“It would be better for us to concentrate on technologies and products that we are good at. So I think it’s more risky if you try and challenge on everything instead of concentrating and focusing on the good technology and products we have.” (1)