New Mitsubishi models previewed in Tokyo

* Next new Mitsubishi car is ASX replacement * Will be offered with plug-in hybrid engine * New Shogun due in 2016; will keep off-road focus...

New Mitsubishi models previewed in Tokyo

Mitsubishi unveiled three new concept cars in Tokyo, which lay the foundations for replacements of several of its current models, as well as revisiting sectors it has previously competed in.

The first new car to arrive will be the second-generation ASX SUV, previewed at the motor show by the Concept XR-PHEV - a compact SUV to compete with rivals such as the Hyundai ix35 and Kia Sportage.

The XR-PHEV was unveiled fitted with the same plug-in hybrid technology as the Outlander PHEV, but in a front-wheel-drive format. This powertrain will be offered in the production model, along with conventional petrol and diesel engines. Four-wheel-drive versions will also be available.

Mitsubishi’s UK managing director, Lance Bradley, told What Car? that while the plug-in hybrid Outlander is four-wheel drive, the hybrid ASX replacement would be front-wheel drive to keep costs down.

The styling of the XR-PHEV is radical for Mitsubishi, but Mr Bradley said that he hoped as many of the design cues as possible from the concept would be carried over into the production car. It’s still undecided when this car will appear at a motor show in production form, but the company is working to a late 2015 date for the global launch.

Speaking about pricing for the forthcoming Outlander PHEV - launching here in March 2014 - Mr Bradley said that Mitsubishi was aiming to have a three-year running cost parity between the hybrid and the conventional diesel model. When we asked if the same ‘three year price match’ would apply to other Mitsubishi hybrids, Mr Bradley said that if the logic worked on the Outlander, then it was likely that the pricing strategy would be rolled out to other PHEV models.

Another concept on show was the GC-PHEV, which hints at the replacement for the ageing Mitsubishi Shogun. A production version of the large SUV isn’t due to appear for another three years, but Mitsubishi has already decided to fit a plug-in hybrid system in this model, too.

A recent meeting of representatives from key Shogun markets concluded that the replacement car had to continue the tradition of being first and foremost an off-roader. The seven-seat option from the current Shogun is also likely to continue in the diesel version of its replacement. However, the hybrid car is likely to be a five-seater only, to ensure that load capacity is not compromised by a large battery pack under the boot floor.

The third Mitsubishi concept displayed was the Concept AR, an MPV that hints at the reappearance of a mid-size people carrier in the company’s range. The Concept AR is roughly the same size as a Renault Scenic, and while the show car demonstrated an unusual seating setup, we expect that a production car would be a conventional five-seater.

None of the concepts shown in Tokyo previewed a smaller SUV to rival cars such as the Renault Captur and Nissan Juke. However, Mr Bradley did reveal that Mitsubishi directors across Europe are pressing the management in Japan to introduce this size of SUV to the range. ‘We’ve been pushing hard on a Mirage-based SUV, which is perfectly possible on that chassis platform. Japan understands the importance of this type of vehicle in Europe, but the potential volume is the main point in question. One factor in that is whether America could sell it or not.’

Mr Bradley also talked to What Car? about the possibility of selling another pure electric Mitsubishi. He expressed regret at how the i-MiEV was sold in the UK: ‘We found problems with the i-MiEV. We thought there would be early adopters, but the numbers were tiny. We sold it through selected dealers only, but in retrospect that was probably a mistake. It made the car seem unusual, and actually you need to normalise these cars to sell them successfully.’

He didn’t rule out a return to this type of vehicle, though: ‘I would expect us to have another pure EV on sale in the future. The Mirage would be the obvious platform for that, but not for another year at least.’

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