Auto blogThu, 27 Feb 2014 13:00:00 EST
Consumer Reports has announced its annual list of worst vehicles, a cringe-inducing contrast to its list of top vehicles. Ignominiously leading the way in 2014 is Chrysler, which has a staggering seven models listed.
Jeep nearly sweeps the small SUV segment by itself, with its Compass, Patriot and 2.4-liter version of the new Cherokee, while the only midsize sedans listed by CR were the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger. The new Dodge Dart and the Dodge Journey round out CR's condemnation of Chrysler.
Ford is taking heat as well, with the Taurus, Edge and their counterparts from Lincoln all listed as the worst vehicles in their respective segments. Toyota doesn't fare much better, with its Lexus IS, Scion iQ and tC also making the list.
Mitsubishi is recalling 733 of its 2013 Outlander Sports that were fitted with leather seat covers due to problems with the seat-mounted airbags. Apparently, the wiring for the airbags may have been routed incorrectly when the seat covers were installed at the port.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration bulletin, the issue only really crops up if owners adjust the height of the seats. Naturally, if the seat wiring is damaged, the airbag may not deploy in the event of a side impact.
The affected vehicles were all manufactured between July 20, 2012 and May 29, 2013. There have been no reported injuries or accidents due to this issue. Mitsubishi, meanwhile, will begin notifying owners, who will need to report to their local dealer for free inspections or repairs. Take a look below for the bulletin from NHTSA.
Mitsubishi is getting more and more forthcoming about its plans for the US market. Among the tidbits revealed during a chat with Edmunds at the 2014 Chicago Auto Show, MMNA Executive Vice President Don Swearingen said that "We are committed to huge investments in capital as well as huge investments in R&D." The marquee product of that investment could be a new Montero for the 2017 or 2018 model year, suggestions of which were raised with the Concept GC-PHEV at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show and again at the end of last year. Swearingen said the proposed SUV is a little smaller than a Ford Explorer and that dealers have seen a picture of it. A decision on whether to bring it to the US will be made later this year.
Below that, incremental improvements will come to every model over the next couple of years. The Outlander will get a facelift next year before a major restyle in 2016, when the Outlander PHEV is also expected to finally make it here. In 2015 the Outlander Sport will be fitted with larger engine and a new, quieter CVT returning better acceleration and fuel economy. In 2016 it will also be redesigned, and it will be equipped with the company's new telematics system that goes into the Outlander the following year.
At the other end of the line-up, the Mirage will get a big dose of love in two years. Detail changes like better fabric inside and outside-mirror indicators are slated for 2015, and in 2016 the bargain hatchback gets "a sleek, aerodynamic" reskin. The Mirage G4 sedan could join the US range if the Canadians turn out to be fans of it. The Lancer gets only meager attentions, while the i-MiEV gets the cold shoulder and won't change at all. We get the cold shoulder as far as a next-generation Evo - Swearingen didn't say a word about that, apparently.
Last week, we told you that Mitsubishi will be getting a new global president, with Osamu Masuko stepping aside in favor of Tesuro Aikawa. The executive changes at the Japanese automaker are hitting closer to home, now, with official word that Mitsubishi Motors North America is getting a new president and CEO, as well. Effective March 1, Ryujiro Kobashi will take over for Yoichi Yokozawa, 49, who has been in charge since April of 2011. Yokozawa is headed back to Japan, where he will assume a spot in the company's corporate planning offices.
Kobashi, 53, has been with Mitsubishi since 1983 when he was fresh out of college. Previous to taking the top job in North America, he was installed as corporate general manager of the NA office at Mitsubishi's headquarters in Japan, where he coordinated regional operations for the US, Canada and Mexico. Before that, he held posts in planning, marketing, advertising and public relations for the company.
Kobashi takes over the company's North American operations at a pivotal time, when the region is finally showing signs of life after a prolonged period of stagnation. As Automotive News notes, Mitsubishi only sold 62,227 vehicles in the US in 2013, but that figure still represents an eight-percent increase. Its crossovers, the new-for-2014 Outlander and the two-year-old Outlander Sport have been selling relatively well, and the affordable Mirage subcompact is a new arrival at dealers.
Long-struggling Mitsubishi Motors is reportedly preparing for a changing of the guard at home. According to Reuters, Osamu Masuko will step aside in favor of Tesuro Aikawa, currently the company's managing director. Masuko won't be leaving the fold entirely, however - he will take the role of chairman, displacing Takashi Nishioka, who will resign. The shakeup has not been confirmed by Mitsubishi, but word is that the changes will take effect April 1.
Mitsu's US troubles are no secret, but the brand's struggles in its home market haven't been quite so publicized. The company was bailed out by other arms of the Mitsubishi empire, and it just raised $2 billion this month to buy back preferred shares that were issued during the bailout. Masuko served as president for nearly ten years, during which the brand's US efforts utterly stalled out, recalls cropped up in Japan and an alliance with Daimler (which was DaimlerChrysler at the time) disintegrated.
According to Reuters, establishing the kind of alliances that will allow the brand to grow, such as its tie-up with Renault-Nissan, are key to Mitsu's long-term success. The thought is that an alliance will allow the brand to come up with some innovative models that won't be compromised by its lack of production scale. It looks like Aikawa has his work cut out for him.
Mitsubishi, which dates all the way back to 1870, is one of the oldest business collectives in Japan. Today, the various businesses that share the Mitsubishi name are largely independent of each other. The automotive unit, however, has fallen on hard times over the past few years.
Back in 2004 and 2005, Mitsubishi Motors sold billions of preferred shares to sister companies like Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Mitsubishi Corp. Now the automaker is preparing to buy back those shares, only to raise the capital, it's selling $2.5 billion worth of shares, simultaneously paying stock dividends for the first time in over 16 years.
The stock issue will reportedly include as many as 241 million shares at a value of $10.73 each. The move is part of a long-term reorganization being implemented by the automaker's president Osamu Masuko, and is expected to help the company double its net income and eliminate all outstanding preferred shares by the end of the fiscal year closing in March.
Around this same time last year, Mitsubishi used the Montreal Auto Show for the North American introduction of its 2014 Mirage. This year, the Japanese automaker will reveal the sedan version of the subcompact wearing the Mirage G4 nameplate, according to the auto show's website and a couple of fresh teaser images.
We got our first look at this Mirage sedan as previewed by the Concept G4 at the 2013 Shanghai Motor Show, and the production version of that sedan ended up wearing the Attrage name in Thailand and other global markets. There's no official information from Mitsubishi at this time about the Mirage G4, but we wouldn't be surprised to see the small sedan follow the same path as the hatchback, showing up for a US debut at the New York Auto Show before going on sale in the fall. Check out the teaser images in the gallery below.
This could have been something great. Last fall, Mitsubishi slapped its triple-diamond badge on a dainty little hatchback called Mirage, offering plenty of functionality and 44 miles per gallon on the highway, all starting at a super-low $12,995. For budget shoppers, this seemed to be a good thing - not to mention a much-needed breath of fresh air for the company's waning US automotive arm.
I will fully admit to being a bit harsh on the Mirage following its debut at the 2013 New York Auto Show, often making it the butt of jokes with my colleagues. But at the end of the day, I love cheap, basic, honest little cars like this, and I wasn't prepared to write off the Mirage until I spent some time behind the wheel. After all, on paper, a Mazda2 looks pretty unremarkable, and yet it's one of my favorite small cars to drive.
Much as I wasn't looking forward to putting my foot in my mouth, I was sort of hoping to feel the same way about the new Mirage. It's a bland package, but it could have been filled with the same spunky spirit and well-meaning composure of vehicles like the aforementioned Mazda, or even stuff like the Honda Fit or Chevy Spark and Sonic.
Mitsubishi resumed full-scale battery production in August after a five-month shutdown due to a safety investigation. Supplier Lithium Energy Japan has been delivering 4,000 battery packs each month since September, but that's apparently still not enough to fill the overseas inventory pipeline for the Outlander PHEV and i subcompact EV while launching the Outlander PHEV here in the US. So instead of the previous tentative launch date of Fall 2014, the plug-in hybrid's Stateside on-sale date has been pushed back until 2015.
That's according to Automotive News, which also notes that Mitsubishi has sold 11,300 plug-in Outlanders this year, though that number reflects the production stoppage over the battery issues. As of April, battery supplier LEJ will be able to supply 5,000 packs per month just for the Outlander, but company president Osamu Masuko has gone on record saying that production will have to rise above that in order to make the US launch.
Every Mitsubishi dealer (and hopefully a fair number of consumers) will be looking forward to a crossover that, for the moment, doesn't really have natural rivals. The Outlander PHEV can drive 32 miles on electricity alone, has a top speed of 75 miles per hour in EV mode and offers all-wheel drive with a towing capacity of over 3,000 pounds. The model should get an impressive MPGe rating from the EPA when it finally arrives and it figures to be a bellwether for the plug-in Outlander Sport and Pajero utility vehicles that are expected to arrive after it. Hopefully 2015 will be its year.
As Mitsubishi's turnaround takes hold, we can talk less about the company's survival in the US market and more about what kinds of products we might see in the future: there's a hybrid Evo on the way and its joint venture with Renault-Nissan will deliver a C-segment sedan. Furthermore, it might even deliver a dividend to its shareholders next year.
In addition to Mitsubishi announcing its intent to focus on SUVs, pickup trucks and crossovers, company president Osamu Masuko gave an interview to Automotive News saying that the plan is for model lines to have two or three power train options: gas, plug-in hybrid, diesel. Believing that fuel economy standards will force the expansion of the plug-in hybrid market, Masuko wants to bring a PHEV Pajero to the US (the Montero in our market) because it will restore the brand's place in the full-size SUV segment with a well known nameplate, and help the company reach its goal of making PHEVs 20 percent of its product offering.
We love the idea of a new Montero - and we hope there's a traditional gas model that would come with the PHEV - the question is what would it look like? The Concept GC-PHEV we saw at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show could offer clues, but with Masuko listing the SUV as the company's second most popular model behind pickups, how daring could designers get with it? On the other hand, if you compare the Concept PX-MiEV shown at Tokyo in 2011, the similarity to the production Outlander is more than one might expect for a crossover that's become a major seller for the brand. With an introduction due in 2015 or 2016, we shouldn't have to wait long to find out. Regrettably, there's still no word on the return of a Mitsubishi pickup truck.