Mitsubishi’s EU freeze: what it means for owners – and what’s behind it

Published: 04 August 2020

► Mitsubishi halts European introduction of new cars
► UK importer investigates switch to new EV brand
► UK owners to get 10+ years of parts, plus warranty cover

Rob Lindley was given five days’ notice that Mitsubishi Motors was freezing the introduction of all future new models to Europe. Five days to secretly reflect on a decision that will profoundly affect the Colt Car Company, the Cirencester-based Mitsubishi cars importer of which he is managing director.

‘I’ve gone through the full gamut of emotions,’ Lindley tells Car, while remaining remarkably level-headed on how to support his 200+ employees, Mitsubishi’s UK customers and the brand’s 105 dealers.

‘We’ve got staff that have been with Mitsubishi for over 30 years. Some people have taken the news quite hard and that’s totally understandable,’ Lindley empathises. ‘And I talked to a dealer yesterday who has had 39 years as a Mitsubishi dealer, generations of the family who haven’t experienced anything else. He’s concerned for the future.’

But Lindley has a clear view on what that future holds.

What did Mitsubishi Motors actually decide – and why?

On Monday 27 July 2020, Mitsubishi Motors announced its turnaround plan, including a freeze on introducing all future new models to Europe and the UK. The Japanese company, an automotive minnow with circa 1 million global sales and a projected billion pound loss this financial year, is cutting costs and pulling back to focus on its core markets in Asia and Australia, in a plan dubbed ‘Small but Beautiful’.

‘The losses in Europe were at the highest level ever,’ Lindley explains. ‘With the pressures that were going to come from [emissions] regulatory compliance, I guess that was a huge investment for them to make. Overlay that with the tipping point of Coronavirus and that made executives focus on regions and markets where they felt they had better opportunities to grow and be profitable.’

What does it mean for UK customers?

In the short term, nothing changes. Mitsubishi has some 15,000 new and used cars in stock, including the Outlander and ASX SUVs and L200 pick-up, across its retail network.

Car makers are obliged to honour warranties and supply parts for years after a model goes out of production – a decade, in the case of components. And the dealers will be keen to continue servicing and repair work, given consumer confidence in new car sales may take a hit.

‘The fundamental message is don’t worry,’ says the Colt Car Company MD. ‘I don’t think there will be much impact [on customers] at all. Mitsubishi has decided to freeze the introduction of new vehicles. But sales of existing vehicles will be there, customer support will be there, service, repair, warranty, recalls, parts, accessories, all those things will continue into the future supported by us and our dealer partners.’

Revised Eclipse Cross and new Outlander on ice

The announcement’s timing was influenced by the imminent unveil of an extensively revised Eclipse Cross. Prototypes have a totally new rear-end design, eliminating the awkward split glass tailgate and extending the overhang to incorporate two more seats. The long-trailed addition of plug-in hybrid capability, courtesy of the Outlander’s petrol/electric powertrain, is also incorporated.

And the larger, all-new Outlander – previewed by 2019’s Engelberg Tourer concept, and its US sister model the Nissan Rogue (sold as the X-Trail in Europe) – would have followed, by summer 2021 latest. The batteries will be relocated to enable seven seats and plug-in capability to be offered in tandem. 

‘We would have been delighted to launch those products in the UK market, they would have given the brand fresh impetus,’ admits Lindley. ‘But it wasn’t to be.’ Indeed, the factory going slow on wholesale cost negotiations was a hint that Mitsubishi’s European ambitions had hit the skids.

Talks to bring new electric brand to the UK

Presciently Rob Lindley has been seeking new opportunities, given that Colt Car Company is an independent distributor. ‘We were already exploring conversations with some manufacturers about the introduction of some EV-focused brands into the UK market, ideally to be complementary to Mitsubishi. 

‘Obviously we’ll be accelerating those discussions, they could present opportunities for us as the UK transitions further towards electrification. They’re primarily with Asian-based manufacturers, ones with electrification and EVs as a core focus. We began that dialogue because we felt there was a bit of a gap in our portfolio on pure EV, and there wasn’t anything immediately on the horizon from Mitsubishi Motors.’

China’s largest pick-up and SUV maker, Great Wall, could be a good prospect with its Haval (H6 pictured above) and upmarket Wey brands – the former has been trying to get a toehold in the right-hand drive Australian market.

Lindley won’t name names – but admits that more companies have been in touch since the news broke. And if a deal is struck, the MD hopes many of Colt Car Company’s dealers will embrace the new brand opportunity too.  

Making the best of a tough situation

It’s a tough time to be looking to reboot a business, with the UK new car market down 48% in the first half of the year due to the Coronavirus epidemic. As a result, half the Colt Car Company workforce has been on furlough. ‘Even without [the new] challenges, we’d have had to look at our organisation to make sure we’re appropriately sized and structured. It will be something we’ll discuss with the team later on in the year.’

‘But we’re looking to rebuild the business,’ vows Lindley. ‘I wouldn’t blame anyone, I wouldn’t blame Mitsubishi Motors, it’s nobody’s fault, these are decisions that sometimes businesses have to make.’

And when new Mitsubishis stop coming to Europe – scheduled for 2022 latest – what will customers miss?

‘Mitsubishi has always taken its own approach to the market, whether it’s making incredibly capable daily use 4x4s like the original Shogun, or putting rally cars on the road – literally – with the Evolution series, or pioneering and popularising plug-in hybrid technology with the Outlander PHEV,’ reflects Lindley. ‘And the i-miEV, bringing out the first EV before others in Europe looked at that. 

‘Mitsubishi has been quite an innovator, an engineering led company and true to itself – and these are the things the consumer will miss down the line.’

By Phil McNamara

Group editor-in-chief of CAR magazine