Will Mitsubishi Pull Out Of The U.S.? Incoming CEO Says ‘Probably Not’

The company will evolve its "small but beautiful" strategy

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
The Outlander is Mitsubishi’s current flagship. [Photo: Mitsubishi Motors]

Mitsubishi’s sales have improved, but are a far cry from its peak.

In 2002, Mitsubishi Motors managed a respectable 345,111 cars here in the U.S. market. While the brand’s sales have picked up in recent months, its 118,074 sales in 2018 are a far cry from those days. Now, Mitsubishi’s newly appointed CEO says the company needs to rethink its strategy in the U.S. Could Mitsubishi end up pulling out of the market altogether?

Takao Kato, who worked on putting together Mitsubishi’s joint venture with Chrysler thirty years ago, says that’s most likely not happening soon. According to an Automotive News report, he said, “It’s not easy to be in [the U.S.] market. Sales are being continued. North America is one of the biggest markets. Therefore, exiting from the sales market would probably not be an option.” Kato currently leads Mitsubishi’s Indonesian unit, also an important market for the brand.

2020 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport
The upcoming 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is the brand’s newest model.

‘Small but Beautiful’ strategy

His predecessor, Osamu Masuko, will hand over the CEO position pending shareholder approval in June. Masuko will stay on as chairman. He has led the company since 2005, and helped it achieve record profits after years of tough losses. However, that effort suffered a setback in 2016 when the company admitted to cheating on its fuel economy ratings. After that happened, then-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn jumped in, taking a stake in the ailing Mitsubishi and forging an alliance with Nissan and French automaker Renault.

Kato will continue Matsuko’s “small but beautiful” business strategy, which focused on steady growth over rapid volume expansion. According to a Monday news conference, he will focus on Mitsubishi’s core strengths, like its emerging markets in Southeast Asia.

Time will tell whether Mitsubishi will gain more ground in the U.S. market. Suzuki pulled out of America in 2012, another Japanese automaker whose sluggish sales and ailing bottom line ultimately did not survive the last major recession. As demand for new cars falls, Mitsubishi may face trouble keeping up its steady growth.