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Where to now for Mitsubishi? Why favourites like the Triton ute and ASX small SUV may not survive as we know them

Part of the Renault-Nissan Alliance since 2016, Mitsubishi is now completely integrated within the group, but at what cost?

Is Mitsubishi in danger of losing its identity and individuality as a result of being completely subsumed within the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance?

This might be the outcome of the Alliance’s ‘Leader-Follower’ strategy whereby each brand is responsible for the design and development of certain models to reduce duplication. Announced back in May, it aims to reverse billion-dollar losses and plummeting market shares suffered by all three entities over recent years.

The upshot is this strategy will likely dramatically diminish Mitsubishi’s input in future lead-vehicle development.

For the foreseeable future, it will be limited to utes and related SUVs and MPVs for the core Southeast Asian markets, followed by South America, Africa and Oceania as secondary priorities.

Mitsubishi will also provide hybrid and plug-in electric vehicle hybrid (PHEV) technologies for the whole Alliance, though how long this will last now that the company is withdrawing from Europe is unknown. It is understood that developing such powertrains to meet future EU emissions led to the European exit, despite the Outlander PHEV’s big success in progressive countries like Norway; it may be forced to do the same in other markets as their pollution targets, too, grow tougher.

Here’s the rub, though.

The ‘Leader-Follower’ model will also see Renault lead the design and development of smaller SUVs and EVs, and Nissan for mid-size SUVs and EVs, among other as-yet still-secret models, for the entire Alliance – including Mitsubishi, of course.

However, as these will include shared upper bodies as well as platforms and powertrains, it has led to concerns that ‘look-a-like’ models with only minor visual differences will result, further diluting Mitsubishi’s identity.

This means that today’s ASX (unveiled in 2009) and related Eclipse Cross (including the coming MY21 facelift of the existing model launched in 2017) will probably live on in name only moving forward, as both are expected to be replaced by lightly made-over versions of the next-generation Nissan Qashqai due in 2022.

As a result, it is expected to leave the next-gen Outlander, also out next year, as the final Mitsubishi-only design, though it too is widely reported to be switching to an Alliance platform – namely the recently unveiled new-generation Nissan X-Trail’s CMF modular architecture.

We hear that even the all-new Triton set for 2022, with design and engineering by Mitsubishi for the Alliance, will adhere to Nissan’s specifications as to what the next-generation Navara should be. Both utes will only brandish slight visual differences to tell them apart.

The ASX is set to become a clone of the Nissan Qashqai. The ASX is set to become a clone of the Nissan Qashqai.

This is already happening, as the recently released Mitsubishi Express is merely a Renault Trafic van with a three-diamond logo on the grille.

Finally, it is also understood that while there may be Mitsubishi-badged versions of the future Nissan Note and Renault Megane, the days of the bespoke Mitsubishi passenger car will probably cease once the unloved Mirage city car released in 2012 bites the dust.

Trucks aside, the dilution of pure Mitsubishi design and engineering ends over a century of passenger-car manufacturing for the brand, and with it, progressive engineering that led to classics like the rally bred Lancer GSR and EVO AWDs, Starion Turbo and 3000GT sports cars, Nimbus people mover and (soon-to-be-dropped) Pajero 4x4, as well as industry-altering innovations like balancer shafts to make four-cylinder engines substantially smoother, and Tiptronic-style sequential automatic transmissions.

Closer to home, the original Mitsubishi Magna of 1985 was an Australian-conceived, -engineered and -built breakaway model based on the Japanese-market fifth-generation Galant family. It pioneered the wide-bodied mid-size-sedan formula as later adopted by the Toyota Camry and others, which went on to dominate the American car market for two decades.

While undoubtedly benefitting from fresh technologies made more accessible via vast economies of scale, will Nissan and Renault-based vehicles mean the end of Mitsubishi as we know it?