When Mitsubishi unveiled a plug-in hybrid version of its popular Outlander mid-size crossover back at the Paris Motor Show in 2012, it was met with a lot of interest from customers around the world. Not only the first plug-in hybrid to feature CHAdeMO DC quick charging — meaning it could replenish its battery pack from empty to 80 percent full in less than 30 minutes — the Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid was the first plug-in hybrid SUV to go on sale when it made its market debut in Japan in 2013.
Given the continuing popularity of SUVs in the U.S., not to mention the pressure on the U.S. auto industry to improve its fleet fuel economy, it seemed logical at the time to expect Mitsubishi to bring the Outlander PHEV to market as soon as possible. But while car buyers in Asia, Europe, and Australasia have been able to purchase the Outlander Plug-in hybrid for more than three years, Mitsubishi has delayed the Outlander PHEV’s North American debut more times than we’d care to count.
This year alone, Mitsubishi has pushed the launch back twice, first promising the Outlander PHEV would debut early 2016 then pushing it back to September 2016 and more recently, November 2016. Now, it seems, the Japanese automaker has pushed it back yet again, admitting that U.S. and Canadian customers won’t get the chance to buy a plug-in hybrid Outlander until Q3 2017.
As reported by HybridCars over the weekend, the newest delay in launching the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is due to Mitsubishi’s worry that the Outlander PHEV won’t be competitive in the current plug-in car market. It’s not clear if this concern encompasses performance, fuel economy, all-electric range or interior trim, but it’s worth noting that Mitsubishi has used this excuse in the past as a reason to delay the Outlander PHEV in North America.
“Following a thorough evaluation process, we have determined that, in order to meet a level of competitiveness that will exceed customer expectations in the United States, the launch of the Outlander PHEV will be delayed until the summer of 2017,” Alex Fedorak, U.S. Public Relations Manager for Mitsubishi Motors told HybridCars yesterday. His counterpart in Canada, John R. Arnone, made a similar statement confirming the delay.
When the Outlander PHEV first launched back in 2013, North American customers were told that they would have to wait until the spring of 2014 to get their hands on one. But delays with production — caused by a quality control issue with the 12 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery packs found in both the Outlander PHEV and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car — meant that Mitsubishi pushed the plug-in hybrid launch date back.
At the time its logic was sound: with high demand in Europe and Japan, it made sense to prioritize existing markets before launching in a new market. With sales in Europe alone overtaking that of the Nissan LEAF electric car, the decision made good business sense too. Lately however, Mitsubishi’s decision to delay the Outlander PHEV in the U.S. seems driven by a fear that the Outlander PHEV simply isn’t competitive against other plug-in vehicles in the the marketplace.
If we’re honest, we can see why Mitsubishi is worried. In Europe and Japan, the 2017 Chevrolet Volt — a car which would be a natural competitor for those looking for a long-range plug-in hybrid — isn’t available. Moreover, given that there’s far more SUV choice in the U.S. than Europe, there’s far more competition for the Outlander PHEV to beat. And while the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV isn’t a direct natural competitor to the Tesla Model X or Volvo XC90 T8 plug-in hybrid (they’re both far more expensive) we can’t help wonder if Mitsubishi is feeling threatened there, too.
Regardless however, things aren’t looking good for the Japanese automaker or its plug-in hybrid SUV. Assuming it does go on sale next summer, by the time Mitsubishi launches the plug-in SUV the model it is based on will already be four years old (there was a facelift for 2015, but the underlying drivetrain remains the same save for a few software tweaks). As already demonstrated by the Nissan LEAF, a car that is more than five years in age becomes incredibly tough to market against newer, more capable models, especially if that car plugs in.
With things evolving so quickly, we’ve got to say the Outlander PHEV will look very long in the tooth by the time it launches next year. And with that in mind, we’re not even sure it will launch at all…
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