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Mitsubishi has joined Renault-Nissan. Here's what you need to know
Nissan buys a huge stake in Mitsubishi, but what will it mean for future cars?
Mitsubishi Motors has joined the Renault-Nissan Alliance. The resulting group will be the world’s number three in terms of cars sold. But this is hardly a partnership of equals. Mitsubishi was a car company deep in the doo-doo. So it called for help from Nissan.
Mitsubishi, although in profit in 2015, had been hit by several scandals and quality issues. It expects to make a colossal loss of around £1.5bn this year. Most of that loss will follow the revelation that it exaggerated the fuel economy of its tiny Kei cars for more than two decades.
Many of those baby cars were sold re-badged as Nissans, so Nissan was dragged in. That may well be why Mitsubishi looked to Nissan rather than any other car company to bail it out. Nissan has bought a 34 percent stake in Mitsubishi Motors for £1.9bn.
A statement from Mitsubishi Motors (MMC) this week is, for a Japanese company, amazingly candid about its need for help: “MMC President and Chief Executive Officer Osamu Masuko requested that Nissan also provide a senior executive to join the company’s executive committee to bolster MMC’s management.”
So Carlos Ghosn, Nissan/Renault boss, will become chair of MMC. Meanwhile Lancashire-born Trevor Mann will take the reins day-to-day at Mitsubishi. (Mann, by the way holds the keys to the city of Sunderland, having been made a freeman in 2014. In 1985 he was one of the first employees at the Nissan plant there and set up Bluebird production. He went on to become one of Ghosn’s top four executives at Nissan.)
Anyway, what does this mean for the cars you’ll see on the roads in a few years’ time?
Mitsubishi will get access to Nissan/Renault car, crossover, SUV and pickup platforms. Also technologies, and the tech swaps will apply the other way. Mitsubishi is strong in crossvers, 4x4s and pickups. But then, so is Nissan, so it’s likely most of the flow will be from Nissan to Mitsubishi. For ASX and Outlander read Qashqai and X-Trail, for Shogun read Patrol, for L200 read Navara. You can imagine that in each class of vehicle there will eventually be one platform not two.
Mitsubishi also has strength in plug-in hybrids, while Nissan leads the world in sales of EVs. There’s scope for co-operation there, each filling the gaps in the others’ knowledge.
And Mitsubishi’s long-standing strength in Kei cars will be something Nissan can continue to use. Once customer trust in Japan has been re-established. That won’t be easy – after the scandal, Mitsubishi sales fell by about a half.
As to hatchbacks and mid-size cars, Mitsubishi has almost given up. The current Mirage supermini is a bit hopeless and the only other mainstream car in its global range is the ancient Lancer (which has left the UK). So help from Nissan can only be a good thing for Mitsubishi.
Two years ago Mitsubishi hired a new design chief from Nissan - Tsunehiro Kunimoto - where he’d had a lot to do with the Juke. He says he’s working to establish a new design language emphasising the toughness and honesty that people perceive in a brand with strong 4x4 and pickup heritage. He’s going to have to work hard to make vehicles that look and feel different from Nissans, if there’s a lot of shared engineering underneath.
Of course for the businesses, there will be huge cost savings in purchasing. They will buy commodities (immediately) and parts (after a few years when they’ve been commonised across the brands) in bigger volumes at lower prices.
If they treat the customers well, they’ll use these savings to do one of two things. One, sell the cars at lower prices. Two, sell cars with more equipment or nicer interiors, for the same price as now.
But in the end I’m thinking this new alliance is unlikely to add much to the car world.
The Renault Nissan Alliance was all about two companies making cars of strong but different characters, and having different geographic footprints. Nissan was strong in Asia and the US, Renault in Europe and South America. They have now jointly developed engines and platforms but their cars have remained interestingly distinct, saving costs to become stronger. But what does the link with Mitsubishi bring? It’s too similar to Nissan, both in the kinds of vehicles it makes and the places it sells them.
Mitsubishi will have to work hard to keep an identity.
Pictured: Mitsubishi GT PHEV concept car