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Mitsubishi's growth plan: More dealers, more marketing, more awareness

CEO Fred Diaz wants to double sales in three to four years' time.

2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
Manuel Carrillo III/Roadshow

Mitsubishi Motors North America (MMNA) has enjoyed a successful few years. The company just posted its sixth consecutive year of sales growth, ending 2018 at just over 118,000 cars. That was good enough to put Mitsubishi ahead of Lincoln and Volvo, for instance, but it's still small overall, and less than the sales from brands like Acura, Lincoln and Cadillac. However, MMNA president and CEO Fred Diaz is optimistic about increasing those figures, he said at a presentation with journalists on Tuesday in Ann Arbor, Michigan. "We feel that we can effectively double our sales from where they are right now," he said.

CEO Fred Diaz has previously worked at Nissan, Ram and Chrysler.


Specifically, Diaz said he hopes to double -- or at least come close to doubling -- last year's sales number in three to four years' time. One of the keys to that will be adding more dealers. Mitsubishi currently has 367 dealers nationwide, having added 45 in the past year. But that only covers about 61% of the US market, Diaz said, and he wants to grow until Mitsubshi dealers cover closer to 90% of the country.

"We need some bigger dealers in bigger metro markets," he said. "I would say that somewhere between 475 and 500 is probably the sweet spot of where we want to go."

The other half of the mission to boost sales is just getting people to think about the Mitsubishi brand or even stop in at a showroom. Right now, Diaz said that for most car shoppers, "we're not even on their consideration list."

The redesigned Outlander Sport is the first model to wear Mitsubishi's new design language.

Jake Holmes/Roadshow

"We need to increase awareness. The marketing budget got really small," he said.

That small budget made it hard for Mitsubishi to compete with the ad buys of giants like Ford, Nissan and Toyota. So buying TV ad space is "like whispering when other automakers are shouting." Instead, Diaz said Mitsubishi will continue to focus on digital marketing, under the direction of new Chief Marketing Officer Kimberley Gardiner.

"We're definitely putting a much larger percentage of our budget to digital marketing than we ever have," Diaz said.

Sales of the tiny and affordable Mirage were up 8.6 percent in 2018 -- even as sales of traditional cars in general fell.


At the same time, Diaz doesn't want to rush to grow Mitsubishi just for the sake of growth. The company has been down that path before, hitting as many as 650 dealers and 354,000 annual sales in the US in the early 2000s -- before sales tumbled to closer to 50,000 units annually. Instead, the aim is for steady growth while keeping the financial figures in a good place.

"We aspire to be what I would classify as small and beautiful," he said. "A small company, not necessarily one that does over a million units a year, but also one that has dealers and a corporation that have beautiful financial statements."

Finally, Diaz noted that the alliance between Mitsubishi and Renault-Nissan is already bearing fruit in terms of saving money on shipping and buying some commodities on a larger scale. But he promised the best is yet to come as Mitsubishi introduces new vehicles based on shared components.

"In the not-too-distant future, you're going to start seeing actual products that we'll build on Alliance platforms," he said. "I've seen those vehicles in Japan… and I'm really, really excited."