Mitsubishi’s good idea lacked fortitude
While the entire world motor industry was in the throes of snaffling-up rivals and forging partnerships with unthreatening competitors, Mitsubishi was keen to create a European manufacturing base, believing it to provide a short-cut to broadening its market share. The former DAF (now NedCar) factory, at Born, Holland, was owned by Volvo at the time. It offered additional production capacity and Mitsubishi became a willing partner.
Both Volvo, with S40 (including its V40 estate car variant), and Mitsubishi (for the Carisma) developed jointly the shared platform models. While Volvo enjoyed modest success with its versions, Mitsubishi was over-keen to produce a truly conservative and non-conflicting model range. This could be said to have put the kybosh on the Carisma’s potential, because it was simply ‘invisible’ alongside its fleet sector Mondeo, Vectra and 406 rivals.
The Carisma should have worked, especially as it was based largely on the Lancer platform, which was known to possess first-class dynamic properties. Yet, the car simply lacked character, the very ‘charisma’ that it so desperately needed to make a market impression.
Its UK sales fortunes were blitzed comprehensively by an idiotic decision to pump over 2,000 demonstrators into the UK fleet sector. It was a strategy that heralded disaster, as improper records were maintained, of which company had borrowed which models. When the sales peaks were not forthcoming, unmanageable discounts dropped the unit values to the point at which they became a residual nightmare. However, worse was to come, when The Colt Car Company decided to call-in its ‘test’ fleet.
Literally, hundreds of Carismas simply ceased to exist. Less than 70% of the fleet was returned and the company had virtually no idea of where the balance was. They were flogged at knockdown auction prices. The saddest aspect of all was that the car was a near-perfect fleet model. The Carisma was reliable. It was cost-effective, with its sub-£10,000 list price and low operational costs (especially with either the turbo-diesel, supplied by Renault, or Mitsubishi’s own direct injection petrol motors). In fact, there are still 3,301 examples of the UK-sold stocks registered for use (DVLA figures), even though production ceased over 14 years ago.
Luscombe’s summary: Every car company has ‘skeletons’ in its closet. In the case of the Carisma, it was clear that some errors were made, despite an unblemished reputation otherwise.
Next week: Iain looks at the Shogun dynasty.
Mitsubishi the world-wide brand
History is vital to any major corporation, highlights Iain Robertson, and that of Mitsubishi is immense, encompassing finance, energy, machinery, chemicals, mining and foods, of which the car company is but a tiny player.
Mitsubishi and its ‘Three Diamonds’ logo is so far-reaching that many of us recognise the brand image long before we even realise that we may own at least one of its innumerable products. While transport on various levels is intrinsic to Mitsubishi, it has become one of the largest trading companies in Japan, since its original conglomerate was formed in the mid-1800s, although it vies with Itochu Corporation for pole position.
While the corporation grew in the period between the two World Wars, it was inevitable that its major contribution to the war effort in terms of shipping, aircraft and heavy machinery would be dismantled, regardless of the strong defence put up by its president. Dissolved in 1947, it was rebranded as 100 separate companies. Yet, three years later, they would reconsolidate into three major entities.
By the mid-1950s, the three firms merged to form Mitsubishi Shoji, which would be registered on both Tokyo and Osaka Stock Exchanges. Its name changed to Mitsubishi Corporation in 1971, by which time it had earned a most respectable reputation, with over 50 international offices to manage its worldwide affairs.
Mitsubishi Motors, which grew from the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ division, remains a small but effective component of the wider corporation, which, since October 2016, has been 34% owned by Nissan (at a cost of $2bn), thus becoming part of the Renault-Nissan Alliance. Mitsubishi is the sixth largest carmaker in Japan and 16th overall in the world. The Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation, which used to be part of the Mitsubishi Motors family, is now majority share-owned by Daimler AG (Mercedes-Benz), although a small percentage stake remains in Mitsubishi’s control.
The car producing firm is 101 years old. Its first 7-seat Model A was based on the Fiat Tipo 3 of the era, of which only 22 examples were built. The future of Mitsubishi Motors lies in a number of shared platform strategies with both Nissan and Renault.
Luscombe’s summary: The car division of Mitsubishi is in its healthiest state ever. Its EV and hybrid expertise will serve to strengthen the efforts of both Renault and Nissan, while allowing it to break into new market sectors.
Next week: Where in the world does Mitsubishi make its motorcars?
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