Incoming Mitsubishi CEO Concerned About Brand’s U.S. Presence

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Image: © 2019 Chris Tonn

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The man who once helped outfit Mitsubishi’s lone American assembly plant will soon head the company he joined back in 1984. He also wonders what can be done about the brand’s existence in the United States.

Takao Kato, 57, steps into the shoes of outgoing CEO Osamu Masuko on June 21st — a move that comes as the automaker’s membership in the Renault-Nissan Alliance faces uncertainty in light of merger overtures from Fiat Chrysler. In a news conference held before the merger news, Kato mused about the company’s limited presence in North America, promising changes ahead.

In remarks reported by Automotive News, Kato said the company’s operations in the region will require a realignment.

“It’s not easy to be in that market,” Kato said. “If you are a big-scale OEM, of course you will be able to secure a profit. But will that be appropriate for us too, at MMC?”

Kato allowed that question to remain unanswered. The incoming CEO said Mitsubishi’s North American operation needs to more closely align with the company’s “small but beautiful” product strategy, without giving details about potential model changes. It’s known that a replacement for the aging Outlander Sport won’t be along for another couple of years, and the same goes for the larger Outlander.

Mitsubishi fields just four models in the region, one of which (Outlander Sport) competes in the same space as the similarly compact Eclipse Cross. At the bottom of the lineup is the subcompact, three-cylinder Mirage. Despite being on the brink of death just a few years ago, Mitsubishi’s sales have climbed significantly since then, helped along by an expanding dealer network. Last year’s U.S. sales volume was the brand’s highest since 2007.

Still, with limited product and volume that’s less than half of what Mazda sells in a year, the question of whether Mitsubishi will remain in the region is a valid one. When asked, Kato offered tepid reassurance to brand loyalists.

“Sales are being continued. North America is one of the biggest markets. Therefore, exiting from the sales market would probably not be an option,” he said.

While not insignificant, sales in the U.S. pale compared to those seen in China and Indonesia, the brand’s two biggest markets. A midterm business plan will emerge later this year.

[Image: Chris Tonn/TTAC]

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