Of all the brands impacted by the downturn, Mitsubishi could argue a convincing case for having one of the most miserable and long-lasting experiences. Sales across its car and pickup ranges are currently tracking at around a third of what they were five years ago. but last year it turned a corner to become the fastest-growing car brand in the UK (after Lotus).
The Cirencester-based importer does not intend to stop there as it plans to maximise on a series of new products from Japan to dramatically grow, with its sights on doubling its total sales to 30,000 within the next five years.
The brand in the UK was virtually running on empty during the darkest days of the downturn when it was hit by the double whammy of the collapse of credit and an exchange rate which saw the yen tumble from 250 to just 120 against the pound. This meant that Mitsubishi in Japan absorbed significant costs on each car it exported to the UK. Fortunately a long-term view prevailed, the yen rallied and the parent began investing in product development.
The results speak for themselves. The brand rebooted itself here and turned a corner in 2013, with car sales up by 38%.
Mitsubishi’s strengths have traditionally been in the retail sector with 108 dealers serving mostly out of city and rural locations. However, to facilitate its planned growth it plans to expand to 130 showrooms, with representation in and around some of the major metropolitan areas. It also plans to grow its share of the fleet market beyond its mainstay of one-man bands and the emergency services.
Lance Bradley, Mitsubishi’s UK managing director, sees an opportunity to grow fleet business using one of the brand's traditional assets: dealers with a strong local name.
‘Our dealers are really good at retail sales and our fleet department are good at serving bigger fleets; there is an opportunity in the middle where there are local businesses that run 20 vehicles which we are not capturing.’
Mitsubishi, with its eclectic line-up, will only ever appeal to certain businesses. While its high standing in the 4×4 sector, with cars and pickups, is deserved, it is also an established player in the electric market, with the small i-MiEV being one of the first generation of EVs. This year it builds on its green credentials with the launch of the Outlander PHEV, a plug-in hybrid SUV which claims to have a range of 32 miles before the petrol engine kicks in. Its small Mirage fills a useful urban niche but its highperformance Evo is sadly on hold. Not quite something for everyone but certainly something for user-choosers with an eye on individuality.
Before the brand gets serious about local fleet its dealers will need to recruit additional sales staff, especially as many laid off staff during the downturn, who can build up long-term relationships with businesses.
The move will certainly mark a cultural shift for the brand and its network.
‘We’ve never been good at local fleet and it’s an area you have to do properly. A company running 20 vehicles does not think of itself as a fleet; they don't have a fleet manager or a fleet policy. You have to deal with them differently. It’s not particularly complicated, you just have to make it really easy for them.’
Bradley wants his dealers to be able to go into these businesses and offer a one-stop shop from sourcing and funding, through to servicing and disposal.
‘If you’re able to offer that sort of service then they are likely to say yes. Our network is very capable of doing that, we’ve just never really got our act together to deliver it.’
Bradley and his team are working on the fine detail of its local fleet plan and plans to launch it to its dealers in March. It's still early days but Bradley’s plan is a clear statement of intent and reflects a new confidence as Mitsubishi rediscovers its mojo.