Combining the best of an off-road capable mid-sized SUV with a plug-in hybrid drivetrain, 30-miles of all-electric range and CHAdeMO DC quick charging capability, the Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid was the best-selling plug-in car in Europe last year, outselling both the Nissan LEAF and Tesla Model S with a 2014 total sales volume of nearly 20,000 units.
Despite this and its relative success in its home market of Japan, Mitsubishi has pushed back the U.S. launch of the Outlander plug-in hybrid several times, promising a revamped 2017 model year Outlander PHEV will launch in Q2 next year, specifically designed with North American customers in mind.
To be fair, the push-backs — first from 2013 through till late 2014 and then further back through 2015 to Q2 2016 — were caused not by a reluctance to bring the car to market but by a plethora of problems with the the battery supply chain and manufacturing problems for Japanese and European-market models. With those fixed and the Outlander a rip-roaring success in Europe, Mitsubishi says we’re getting close to a launch.
At last week’s 2015 Chicago Auto Show, Mitsubishi finally tied down the launch date for the highly-anticipated plug-in SUV, telling Autobloggreen that the 2017 Outlander Plug-in Hybrid will to officially go on sale in April 2016,
Even with a refresh though, Mitsubishi seems unsure the long-delayed plug-in hybrid will sell well with U.S. customers, predicting a total sales of just 3,970 units during its first full year on U.S. dealer lots.
Telling Autobloggreen that he was “confident” of the official launch date for the 2017 Outlander Plug-in Hybrid, Alex Fedorak, Public relations manager for Mitsubishi Motors North America admitted that Mitsubishi would welcome the same kind of reception for the Outlander PHEV that it has enjoyed in Europe. But for now, single-digit percentage sales expectations are being set.
“It’s not going to be a big percentage of [U.S.] Outlander sales,” he said. “Our expectations are in the single-digit percentage of the total Outlander Sales. It’s just going to be a technology showcase for us, and we’ll see what happens.”
That might seem like a defeatist attitude. It might also seem that the Outlander PHEV could be entering the U.S. market as nothing more than a compliance car, sold in low-volumes to satisfy Zero Emission mandates in states like California, Oregon, New Jersey and New York to name a few.
Yet it’s worth remembering at this point that Mitsubishi isn’t a large automaker when it comes to the U.S. market. In fact, Mitsubishi’s total market sales for 2014 (77,643) represents just a tiny proportion of the total U.S. new car market. To put that figure into proportion, Ford tallied a massive 128,666 retail sales during January 2015, a month known for being traditionally slow for vehicle sales.
We’re guessing Mitsubishi’s previous plug-in sales experiences in the U.S. — of its tiny four-seat i-Miev electric hatchback, the first mass-produced electric car to go on sale globally– aren’t helping, either.
Those who have followed Mitsubishi’s painfully-low sales figures for the i-Miev in recent years may note — fairly we think — that Mitsubishi hasn’t been particularly aggressive in selling its first mass-produced electric car to an American audience. In fact, we can’t recall a single piece of advertising we’ve seen in the last year promoting it to a U.S. audience, even though Mitsubishi managed a reasonably successful (and amusing) ad campaign further north in Canada.
Of the vehicle itself, Fedorak confirmed that the 2017 Outlander PHEV will look very different to the current European and JDM model, with a much more refined chassis and interior as well as a facelift on the outside. The drivetrain however, is likely to be identical to the version currently on sale elsewhere in the world.
As for those lose sales figures? We’re guessing at launch, the Outlander PHEV will only be available in key markets. But, while Mitsubishi isn’t counting its chickens, it does seem open to the idea that it could increase sales expectations if it needs to, indicating to us that perhaps it isn’t the compliance car some fear it to be.
“If it takes off for us like it did in Europe, it’ll be good news for the brand,” said Fedorak.
Only time — and we hope some much-needed advertising — will tell.
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