SAN FRANCISCO – Mitsubishi still hopes to partner with another automaker for the next-generation of its Lancer compact car.
But, fearful of a deal not materializing, the Japanese automaker also is beginning work on a new Lancer in-house.
“We are talking with a potential partner at this time, (but) at the same time we’re doing an internal design of the vehicle,” Don Swearingen, executive vice president-Mitsubishi Motors North America, tells WardsAuto here at a ’16 Outlander media preview. “We’re running parallel because we cannot wait any longer to see if a partnership will work out. If it falls through then we’re another year behind.”
Mitsubishi already had one potential C-car partnership fall through, with France’s Renault.
Swearingen confirms talks are underway with another automaker. It has been reported Mitsubishi is in discussions with Renault’s alliance partner Nissan.
Swearingen is unsure when parent company Mitsubishi Motors wants to complete a pact, but says even if a deal could be finalized this year a new Lancer still is 18 months to two years out.
Behind Mitsubishi’s urgency is the advanced age of the current Lancer.
The model last was all-new in 2007 as an ’08. Since then, competing compact cars such as the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte and Toyota Corolla have been redesigned at least once.
The upcoming ’16 Civic and Elantra will mark those models’ second redesign since 2007.
Lancer sales were up 21.7% through May, although the car’s 9,367-unit total places it far behind the segment-leading Corolla, which has racked up 159,486 deliveries in the year’s first five months.
While Mitsubishi continues to sell the current Lancer, it is discontinuing the model’s Evolution or “Evo” performance variant.
A limited-edition model of 1,600 units will close out the line and be available at the brand’s U.S. dealers from September through December.
Although the car has a passionate fan base – Swearingen estimates 70% of Mitsubishi owners who will show up to the brand’s July 11 owners’ day are Evo drivers – he says volume is too low.
“We understand (owners love the car,) but reality is sales are only about 300-400 a month and long-term it’s not the car for the future of us,” he says. “I think it’s a heritage (model); it’s done very well for us, but we have to move on.”
The reported possibility of resurrecting the Evo moniker for a plug-in hybrid CUV is “a little further off than people would imagine,” he says.
Meanwhile, Swearingen reiterates Mitsubishi no longer is pursuing a new midsize car due to some unfavorable math. The automaker discontinued its prior midsize entrant, the Galant, in 2012.
“We’ve made the decision that D-segment will not work for us in the U.S.,” he says. “When you do the financial analysis and you look at the amount of money (needed) for advertising (and the amount) most of our competitors are spending on incentives, it doesn’t pencil out to do a partnership.”