Mitsubishi in India — from Bestselling to Bottomselling in 20 years
Mitsubishi entered India with a heroic sedan with equally heroic sales. But does anyone buy a Mitsubishi anymore?
It was during the mid '90s that many foreign automakers entered the Indian automobile market. Until then, Hindustan and Maruti were the only proper automakers in the country.
Owing to the limited variety of cars available, individuals who could afford expensive cars turned to imports. One of the most imported cars in the early '90s was the Mitsubishi Pajero — respected globally for its rock-solid build and exceptional off-roading capabilities. In 1998, Mitsubishi entered India as a joint venture with Hindustan Motors. Thus, HM was responsible for manufacturing and assembling Mitsubishi cars in India.
1991 Mitsubishi Pajero
The Mitsubishi-Hindustan Joint Venture
1997 Mitsubishi Lancer — the first car from the Mitsubishi roster
As shocking as it may be, Lancer was the first Mitsubishi to come to our shores. Yes, Pajero doesn't hold this honour despite its cult following in the country. Mitsubishi Lancer, a famous sedan in Japan, was launched in India in 1998. It performed well in India, but sadly, it was the only Mitsubishi model to do so. A 1.5-litre petrol engine producing 85 bhp, 132Nm powered it, while the 2.0-litre diesel engine produced a mere 68 bhp of power and 122Nm of torque. Lancer featured an air conditioner, power steering, power windows, adjustable steering, power-adjustable rear-view mirrors and many other features that were then considered luxuries. Mitsubishi aimed the Lancer at the emerging higher middle-class and was set to compete with the Honda City and the Suzuki Esteem. However, Type-2 Honda City's launch revolutionised the market with its three engine options of the D13B-1300cc, the D15B-1500c, and the D15C-1500cc. The former targeted those buyers who desired efficiency, while the latter two targeted performance hunters. The VTEC technology possessed everything in just the right proportion and, as they say, it 'ate' Lancer’s and Esteem’s market shares. Mitsubishi’s Lancer now needed upgrades to withstand the tough competition from the newly launched Suzuki Baleno 1.6 and the segment-king Honda City. Still, Lancer had its own pros, such as the refined but relatively powerful diesel engine. However, its dated styling and the relative lack of modern features represented its cons. Unfortunately, Hindustan ignored the rising competition by not properly updating the Lancer.
2002 Mitsubsihi Pajero
Nonetheless, we finally received the Pajero in 2002, christened as 'Pajero GLX CRZ'.
Being a former hot import, HM-Mitsubishi struck the iron while it was still hot. Pajero was so trendy, in fact, that it was kind of necessary to own one for Bollywood celebrities, political leaders and other rich people. They launched it here in only the 2800cc turbo I4 diesel-equipped 4x4 configuration, which used a 5-speed manual gearbox. It was unlike the JDM spec Pajero that used a 3500cc V6 mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission. Although a splendid vehicle, the Mitsubishi Pajero was now losing its crown to the premium Toyota Land Cruiser/Lexus LX 470, and the affordable yet luxuriously powerful Tata Safari. Nonetheless, Mitsubishi's premium brand image and its fan-following helped save Pajero. Its sales figures were great until 2003, before the launch of the Ford Endeavour. The new Endeavour stiffened the competition but only to a limited extent as it was still underpowered.
It was only in 2008 that the new Pajero SFX was launched. Nothing changed in terms of the powertrain but the exteriors featured new bumpers — designed for off-roading; beefed up fenders; new headlights and fog lamps; and bigger, wider wheels. This was nicknamed as the 'Pajero Bulldog' and was launched at a price tag of ₹26,00,000 with many new dual tone colour options.
Its interiors were revised with a beige colour scheme as opposed to the ongoing all black one. New features such as a Kenwood Music System with Rockford Fosgate speakers, leather upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and dual front airbags now dominated its brochure.
The Pajero SFX remained on sale until 2012 when the new Pajero Sport was launched.
2013 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport
"Der aaye durust aaye", they launched it at a rather optimistic ₹23.53 lakhs. Powered by a 2.5-litre, common-rail diesel engine, it produced 175 bhp of peak power at 4000 RPM and 400 Nm of peak torque between 2000-2500 RPM. Mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox, it featured a Super Select 4x4 drivetrain.
In 2015, Mitsubishi minimally facelifted the Pajero Sport with a new grille. Mitsubishi now offered the Pajero Sport in two variants — a 4WD using a 5-speed MT, and a 2WD that uses the INVECS-II 5-speed AT. Ride-comfort and off-road ability were the USPs of the Pajero Sport but it was unable to help it achieve big numbers. Poor after sales service and the now prominent Toyota Fortuner fan-base emerged as the major reasons for the same.
Mitsubishi-HM's Lancer and Pajero were the only ones that sold well in India .
Below is an enumeration of the brand’s products in India.
1. Mitsubishi Cedia | A Power-packed Sedan
The sedan was powered by a 2.0 litre petrol engine, producing 114 bhp of power and a peak torque of 175 Nm. Mitsubishi also vested it with safety features such as airbags, ABS with EBD and an engine immobiliser. For the driver’s enhancements, it had power steering, height-adjustable driver seat, multi-information display, steering-reach adjustment and much more. The list is not limited to climate control, leather seats, power windows, central locking, remote locking, and CD player either. Sometimes being perfect makes you less chosen. The Indian market was not as open to sedans during its life. This is what led to the low sales of the luxury and powerful sedan. It was discontinued in 2013.
2. Mitsubishi Outlander
2013 Mitsubishi Outlander
This is one of the two models that were available before the lockdown. The previous Outlander was discontinued in 2013 and was launched in a new avatar in 2018. It was also brought through the CBU route and was more expensive than its rivals in India. Thus the SUV was not at all welcomed in the market.
3. Mitsubishi Montero
2011 Mitsubishi Montero
While carmakers such as Jaguar focussed more on luxury, Mitsubishi was busy working on ruggedness, and that was how the Montero was born. However, Mitsubishi made it to the premium SUV segment in 2009 by a different route. It is worth mentioning that Montero has won the tough Dakar rally more than twelve times. Although not completely, the racing DNA of the rally-spec Montero has seeped into the road-spec. Essentially the next generation of the Indian Pajero, Montero has some of the best off-road technologies. This tough SUV uses a 3.2-litre Inline 4 DIG diesel engine that pushes 121 ps of power and 383 Nm of peak torque. Mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission, it is capable of sending the power to all 4-wheels.
Later in 2016, Mitsubishi Montero tried to take over the sales of premium soft-roading SUVs such as the Volvo XC90, and the Jaguar F-Pace. However, this time it was a CBU import, which skyrocketed its price two-folds... The 2016 Montero also got an engine upgrade and that was a 3.2 litre turbocharged DOHC common rail DI-D engine. The power was bumped to 192ps and the torque went up to a massive 441 Nm. However, the features offered on the interior were from the previous era, dating the Montero against its rivals. Montero’s rivals offer a lot more bang for the buck, in turn, decreasing the overall value of this Mitsubishi.
2016 Jaguar F-Pace
SUV makers focused more on luxury while Montero was more inclined towards performance. Mitsubishi set a price tag of ₹37,00,000 on Montero in 2009 which increased to ₹68,00,000 in 2016.
It might be clear from the aforementioned why Mitsubishi failed at our shores. It is astonishing to see Mitsubishi still managing to stay active in India even though the graph has been tilted downwards for a long time. To summarize, here are some reasons for the failure:
• Presence is a MUST: Mitsubishi was dependent on HM for production and running the network in India. It was never directly involved in the working of the brand. This excessive dependency led to a regrowth occurring only after HM closed its own operations.
• CBU sales: Automakers should opt for the sale of CBU only after a thorough market evaluation. In India, it is rare for CBU units to perform well. Even Maruti Suzuki failed with their CBU Kizashi and Grand Vitara.
• A Scandal: Japanese Transport Department investigated the case of the company’s false fuel mileage claims. Mitsubishi was found guilty and the share prices plummeted to low ends. Financial instability made the situation worse for the company.
2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport 4x4
Now that 34% of Mitsubishi’s shares have been bought by Nissan, we witness the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi alliance. Thus, we hope for Mitsubishi to make a comeback in India with lessons learnt from previous mistakes.