Lancer on last leg of long sales journey?

Has Mitsubishi finally called time on an enduring sales favourite?


CONJECTURE that one of the oldest new cars on the road might be replaced by a radical, similar-sized sports utility has not fazed the marque’s national distributor.

Mitsubishi Motors New Zealand’s viewpoint about the Lancer’s remaining lifespan here was sought in light of reported comment from the New York motor show and also views being expressed by Mitsubishi Japan.

At the New York show several days ago the make said the car will cease sale in North America at the end of 2017. This determination that is being read by many as a death knell, as the United States is Lancer’s biggest single market by far.

In addition, Mitsubishi Japan also now seems to be suggesting there is no plan to produce a direct replacement for the now nine-year-old design, reasons being changes in market trend that go against sedans and also the brand’s failure to find a partner to co-share development of another orthodox car in this class.

Rather than rather than create a new sedan Mitsubishi seems intent on filling the market gap with a medium crossover it also confirmed at the show.

Set to be drawn from the eX concept, seen here when on display at the recent Geneva motor show, the soft-roader is seen as a better bet for sales growth. It also ties in to a global strategy to now to prioritise sports utilities.

The tenor of thoughts offered by MMNZ today suggests it has some awareness of this future path.

Said head of sales and marketing strategy Daniel Cook: “We are seeing more and more demand for SUVs and a move away from sedan sales, so it's likely when our SUV range expands we will see an end to Lancer sedan.”

Japan’s intent to service the rapid growth in demand for SUVs, a trend that has already made keen impact in New Zealand, with more vehicles beyond the current ASX, Outlander Pajero Sport and Pajero would also work for this market, Cook said.

“We are looking forward to adding more SUV's to our already strong line up.

“Once these models are in play we will have a new smaller ASX, an SUV up from ASX and then Outlander and finally Pajero Sport and Pajero.”

That’s not to say he doesn’t rate Lancer’s contribution. Despite its age, a model bearing the oldest nameplate in Mitsubishi’s portfolio has been a key contributor to MMNZ’s sales count, with annual refreshes keeping it in surprisingly good shape.

The latest update has just hit the market and is doing well, Cook said today.

“The Lancer refresh has been very well received and our volumes are continuing to average around 100 per month, keeping us in the number one position for the small sedan segment,” he said.

Lancer’s future has been a hardy annual for Cook to ponder. A year ago the man who has the task of keeping the four-door relevant admitted to being a little surprised that the model has continued to accomplish more than 1200 sales per annum in every year save it’s first.

However, the car’s pace has slowed, with with last year’s count of 1112 units being 424 units down on the 2014 tally that was the highest since release back in 2007.

Nonetheless, the 2015 count is still a good penetration and abets his observation of a year ago that “it just seems to have got stronger and stronger.”

Cook has always reckoned Lancer’s impressive longevity has come down to various factors: While retail stickers have not changed much since 2008, the transaction pricing – meaning “discounting potential” - certainly has. The specification has also strengthened, the styling has held up well, the 10-year warranty is appreciated and, also, the count of rivals has reduced.

Nonetheless, today he acknowledged that market trends seem to now being eroding the car’s status.

Another influence is that Mitsubishi Japan has always said it would require a joint venture partner to develop another medium sedan – and it has given up on finding one. The Nissan-Renault cabal was cited as the best choice; raising potential of the next Lancer being either a lightly made-over version of the next Nissan Pulsar or the latest Renault Megane.

There is conjecture that the next-generation ASX, due to go into production at the end of 2017, will reduce in size to allow create space for the medium model. Outlander is also expected to grow to become a direct rival for the Toyota Highlander and Hyundai Santa Fe.

All the new SUVs are expected to be available in fully electric or plug-in hybrid format, though versions using orthodox petrol and diesel engines will continue.

Mitsubishi North America’s boss, Don Swearingen, performance versions will also be spun off some or all of the hybrid SUVs, to help connect the future green vision with Mitsubishi’s illustrious motorsport heritage made famous by now-defunct nameplates such as the Lancer Evo.

There is still no word on the future of the full-sized Pajero, which beats the Lancer as the oldest product Mitsubishi sells.