Let’s start this article with the one thing that’s on everybody’s mind – this is NOT an April Fool’s Day joke. As of this week, Mitsubishi has announced that their Lancer Evolution performance sedan will cease production after this year. This means that in 2015 and beyond, Mitsubishi will no longer offer any sporty vehicles; the Lancer Evo was the last one.
Some critics have already made the bold claim that this will be the end of Mitsubishi as we know it. From their perspective, the Lancer Evo was the only remaining Mitsubishi that had anything at all over the competition. They point out that it is/was the last desirable car in their lineup. Whether the future of the small Japanese brand is as dire as that remains to be seen. And, to be fair, it’s not clear whether or not the Lancer will become completely extinct. The platform may get some use in other models, although it seems unlikely.
Here’s what Mitsubishi’s Namie Koketsu had to say about the Lancer’s demise:
“Mitsubishi Motors does not have any plans to design a successor with the current concept, as a high-performance four-wheel drive gasoline-powered sedan, [instead] Mitsubishi Motors will explore the possibilities of high-performance models that incorporate electric vehicle technology.”
Of course, this all fits with Mitsubishi’s long-term plan as they described it near the end of 2013. At that time, they were just finishing up a highly profitable year. From their perspective, there was a time and place when motorsport performance had a heavy correlation with units sold… It started from 1996 to 1999, when the Lancer Evo took down four back-to-back WRC titles. Those stats led to a successful US debut in 2003, and contributed to near 250,000 global sales in the Evo’s long and storied life.
However, despite what Nissan might say, Mitsubishi believes that those days have passed. The majority of today’s drivers couldn’t care less about motorsports performance, so Mitsubishi is shifting their brand-wide focus to affordable green vehicles. They want to build out their portfolio of electric and hybrid vehicles to the point where 20% of their lineup will be electrified by 2020. As for their non-electric vehicles, they’ll put a heavy focus on globally applicable crossovers and SUVs – cars that are always popular.
In short, Mitsubishi has finally recognized that a smaller automaker can’t do the same things that a larger one can, at least not in this automotive market climate. So, they’re trimming their lineup; AutoNews reports that they intend to drop down to 13 models from the 18 models they offer now. It sounds eerily reminiscent of Mazda’s business plan, which can be best described as doing a few things really well instead of trying to do everything mediocrely.
In the end, the decision to cease production of the Lancer Evolution seems like a smart one. If they don’t have the manpower to continue keeping their performance sedan up to snuff, then they might as well axe it entirely. And with cutting edge products like the electric i-MiEV and the innovative PHEV SUV hybrid Outlander, it’s not as if Mitsubishi is giving up, just making the deft change of direction the Evo was so rightly famous for.