Mitsubishi’s back-catalogue of performance cars is nothing short of stunning. Even if you ignore the success of 10 generations of the Lancer Evolution on and off the world’s rally stages, there’s a veritable feast of cool cars to choose from. Various versions of the Eclipse, the spectacularly complicated 3000GT, the Starion, the Lancer 1600 GSR, the Galant VR4 - it’s a fast car heritage other manufacturers would kill for.
And yet, they’re all gone, and no successors are planned. The Eclipse name has been resurrected for a crossover, and something similar might happen to the celebrated Evolution badge. But why?
At the Geneva Motor Show, managing director of Mitsubishi UK Rob Lindley explained to us the rationale behind the Japanese manufacturer’s current strategy. “Mitsubishi’s focus is now SUVs, crossover, four-wheel drive, along with alternative fuel technology,” he said, adding “Mitsubishi has moved around different brand positionings, whether it’s been Spacestar style vehicles or sports car derivatives, Evo - it’s not had that clarity of focus.”
If you’re going to stick mainly to one kind of vehicle, SUVs are the best bet. Bigger companies are at it too - fairly soon, Ford will sell only SUVs and crossovers in the US, save for the Mustang.
The inexplicable shift towards heavy, high-riding vehicles does still seem to leave a small space for sports cars, evidenced by the retention of the Mustang and also examples like Mitsubishi’s Japanese competitor Toyota, which recently reintroduced the Supra. Then there’s Honda, which, having abandoned fast cars for years, brought back the Civic Type R and the NSX. So surely it’s feasible for Mitsubishi to pull off the same trick? The answer is no, sadly.
“As a business that sells 1.2 million cars worldwide, in a global sense, it’s not a big business. If you try and be in all the different segments of the market and follow trends, like sports cars, it would be difficult to be economically viable,” Lindley explains.
You might think, then, that Mitsubishi’s rich heritage and motorsport pedigree is something of a burden. Lindley doesn’t agree. “I don’t think it’s a curse. Having any kind of fanbase that has a huge following for a brand is always a massive asset because those type of customers drive other vehicles as well. They may love the historical Evos and sports cars, but there’s a good chance they have other kinds of vehicles in the garage.”
With stints at Mazda and Harley-Davidson on his CV, Lindley knows a thing or two about working in brands with illustrious histories. Mitsubishi’s “heritage with four-wheel drive capability” makes the SUV market “a great place to be in,” he maintains.
In any case, while a vocal bunch, all those longing to buy a new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution or perhaps a 3000GT successor simply doesn’t amount to a big group of people. “I don’t know how many people focus in on that [performance cars] now. I don’t think it’s a large segment of today’s car market,” Lindley says.
It’s a fair point - Toyota, which sold nearly nine times the amount of cars as Mitsubishi in 2019, was only able to make a business case for the Supra by establishing a joint venture with BMW. And as much as we love the new Honda NSX, sales have been poor.
Sadly, these just aren’t the kind of cars people aspire to anymore, and in that kind of environment, a Mitsubishi Evo XI doesn’t work.