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Mitsubishi faces a dilemma in the coming years, as it faces the prospect of fielding just three cars in Australia when the ASX and Eclipse Cross SUVs reach their end-of-life.
While the brand has locked in new-generation versions of the Outlander mid-sizer, Triton ute, and an upcoming Pajero Sport replacement as outlined in its mid-term plan, there's no obvious replacement yet for its popular affordable ASX and Eclipse Cross small SUVs, which are both based on dated platforms.
While neither car has an end-date set, executives explained to Australian journalists that it would prove "difficult" to keep the now-13-year-old ASX on sale until 2026, particularly as new safety and emissions regulations loom.
No direct replacement is on the way, as Mitsubishi's only two options are a re-badged Renault Captur-based ASX sold in Europe, or the XFC set to launch in Indonesia before the end of the year, which is based on an old platform and specified for the South East Asian market.
Neither car is seen as a straight replacement for the current ASX, however, as the re-badged version doesn't suit the 'Mitsubishi-ness' executives desire for new products in our market, and the XFC won't be up to five-star safety standards, as it will continue to use a dated platform, something the brand says could be prohibitively expensive to change.
But, due to the significance of our market, the brand's top brass vowed the Australian line-up wouldn't drop down to just three cars, with local managing director, Shaun Westcott, explaining "Australia has become more important."
"We used to be a pillar brand, but now we've moved to a core market," he said, "Mitsubishi Australia is one of the top performing divisions from around the world."
Enter the eK X city-sized 'kei-class' electric car and the Delica people mover. Both models are currently being scouted for a potential Australian launch, despite thus far being Japan exclusives. In fact, local executives revealed they have grey-imported examples of both vehicles undergoing local testing and evaluation as of August 2023.
"We are pushing very hard for additional products," explained Westcott, "We have a Delica in the market, a current one - We're bringing an eK X - I believe the world has moved and we have to move with the world. Densification of cities is going to happen, and it's going to happen quickly. The denser the city, the smaller the car you need."
The main sticking point for both models, just like the XFC, is ANCAP. The Delica is based on an old platform despite having a seemingly decent set of modern safety equipment, while the ek X is so small it is unlikely to have the crash structure or number of airbags required for a maximum five-star rating.
Mitsubishi is of the opinion that the eK X would be a three-star ANCAP car if it launched in Australia today.
"Is three-star ok? I come from a country where three-star is ok," Westcott, who hails from South Africa, continued; "In Australia, ANCAP is talking five-star or nothing. Really? Are we sure about that? Given the cost of electric vehicles, the pressures on people, the affordability of housing. People's disposable income is dropping, EV prices are going up, I believe there is a place for a kei car in Australia.
"We're not advocating that we should compromise safety in any way at all, we're saying that there should be some kind of global standard around safety, because at the moment everyone in the world is doing their own thing [for safety regulations]. You can buy a cell phone anywhere in the world and it's standardised. There should be some level of standardisation because otherwise what this does is incrementally and significantly increases the cost. What that means is the consumer ultimately pays more, and has less choice.
Westcott is hoping the test vehicles the brand has in Australia will continue to stir interest in their niche categories. "This isn't my idea, it isn't Mitsubishi Australia's idea, this is the consumer. If they tell us what they need, what they want, we will give it to them."
The target market for the eK X in particular is expected to be similar to buyers of the Fiat 500 or Mini Cooper, who Westcott describes as "younger, in their 20s or 30s, more eco-conscious. I was talking to somebody in our business the other day about the Fiat 500. There's a niche. It's a niche product, there's a gap in the market."
The volume-to-ANCAP ratio, though will ultimately decide the car's fate, it seems, as Westcott was asked whether Fiat 500 levels of sales volume would justify that trade-off.
"Yes, you're spot on. That's one of the considerations." He also agreed that the price would be key for the model, which the brand has indicated in the past would need be in the high $20,000 or low $30,000 region for it to make sense.
When it comes to the Delica, which is a popular model for private grey importers thanks to its rugged appeal, diesel engine and all-wheel-drive system, unusual for a people mover, it seems as though even Mitsubishi's global executives were aware of the need for the model Down Under. Takao Kato, global CEO, explained that the model had been shown to dealers in Australia before, but recently the demand for it had surged.
"Before, we introduced the Delica to Australian dealers, four, five years ago. But recently, many are saying 'I want Delica!' so people's preferences have changed - I think there's a chance for that in Australia," he said, but had similar safety concerns regarding the dated platform on which the current version sits.
Both cars seemingly meet requirements to comply with the Australian Design Rules, and use many common parts with locally sold Mitsubishis, although Westcott noted "some things will still need to be localised" as items like multimedia functions and switchgear are configured for the Japanese market. The eK X will need to have its Type 1 AC charging port swapped to a Type 2 unit, which is more standardised in Australia.
Meanwhile, the Japanese executive panel told Australian media that an ASX replacement would come eventually as the brand pivoted away from its 'Challenge 2025' plan to focus on South East Asia, and re-orient towards markets like Australia.
However, it may not be until 2026 or beyond before we see what's in store on that front, as Mitsubishi decides whether to upgrade the XFC at great expense, or source a different vehicle or platform from its alliance partners, Nissan and Renault.
One thing is for sure, we'll be seeing a great deal more 'Mitsubishi-ness' in the interim.