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Mitsubishi Lancer could become an SUV

The e-EVOLUTION concept, revealed at the Tokyo Motor show, showcases Mitsubishi's future design language.

Despite production of the Japanese-built Lancer small car ending this year, Mitsubishi has reaffirmed its commitment to the nameplate, with suggestions the model could return as an SUV previewed by the e-Evolution concept revealed in Tokyo this week.

Speaking to Australian journalists at the Tokyo motor show, Mitsubishi Motors Corporation chief operating officer Trevor Mann said the Lancer's future was still yet to be determined, despite its imminent discontinuation.

“Where to after that (end of production) is still under discussion,” he said. “So we haven’t scratched it, if you know what I mean, but we haven’t agreed conceptually yet on where we should go.

“What I could consider is, what we do is right for our future based on this (brain), not right for our past based on this (heart).”

The Lancer has been Mitsubishi's small-car offering since 1973 and provided the foundations for 10 generations of revered, rally-inspired Evolution performance variants from 1992 onwards.

The current-generation Lancer has been on sale since 2007 and will end its Japanese production run later this year. The current-generation Lancer has been on sale since 2007 and will end its Japanese production run later this year.

The current-generation model has been in production since 2007, while the Chinese-built Grand Lancer manufactured on the same platform will remain on sale in Taiwan indefinitely.

Mr Mann highlighted the Lancer small car and Mirage light sedan – removed from the Australian market late last year – as models competing in the diminishing passenger-car segment.

“Now if you look at those segments on a global basis, they are in decline in almost every country in the world,” he said.

“So when we ask our product people, ‘Okay, what do you want for a new sedan, show me the volumes, show me the profitability, does it work?’

“It’s starting to become more and more difficult because … a lot of China’s industry capacity is on sedans, a lot of the US industrial capacity is on sedans – they’re shrinking.

“So what is happening in those markets is that the price point of those vehicles is coming under pressure, therefore the profitability is coming under pressure.

“In a declining market where everybody is fighting for their share, is that what you want to do?

“You could focus on a hatch, or you could say, ‘I don’t want a Lancer, I want something else’.”

Mitsubishi has sold 5485 Lancers in Australia to the end of September this year, representing a 5.2 per cent decrease year-on-year, with its small car placed well behind the segment-leading Toyota Corolla (28,665) and Mazda3 (25,457).

Global customer buying preferences continue to trend away from passenger cars towards SUVs.

Mr Mann acknowledged the Lancer's storied history, as well as customer awareness of its nameplate, but cautioned against creating a miscalculated new model.

“We have hundreds of thousands of Lancer customers all over the world and some of them are coming into the showrooms and saying, ‘I’ve had three of these now, can I have a new one?’,” he said.

“We’re a brand with a limited portfolio. We can’t afford a failure. What we’ve got to make sure is what we do is right – right for our customers – and explain what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and why is this right.

“To some extent, that’s one of the reasons why we’ve shown the e-Evolution because it gives an example of what could be done – so, ‘is it interesting or not interesting?’ is what we’re trying to judge.”

Global customer buying preferences continue to trend away from passenger cars towards SUVs, with Mr Mann suggesting the sensible move would be to chase the market and volume.

“You’ve got to look at where I’m going to get the return on my investment, where the mass of customers are, and if we don’t believe there is a significant mass for us we wouldn’t do it,” he said.

“If we believe there is perhaps a unique proposition that we could make, that could start to make a bit of a market, then we’d be interested. So this is what we’re studying.”

When questioned if Mitsubishi could become an SUV brand, given the global market's shift towards high-riders, Mr Mann left the door open.

“I’m not going to say yes, and I’m not going to say no, I’m saying it could be possible,” he said.

“The options are we’ve got two sedans at the moment … one of which is on its way out, do we go ahead with two? Do we go ahead with one? And if it’s one, how do we position that between the current two vehicles.

“Or do we do something else?”

Should the Mitsubishi Lancer nameplate live on as an SUV? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

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