Fans of the Mitsubishi Pajero should be worried.
Mitsubishi has hinted that traditional big, heavy off-road vehicles might become too much trouble once tough new emission restrictions come into force in Europe in 2020.
For a company that openly sees its future in SUVs, that’s a big statement, and if you were the cynical type, prepared to join the dots, you might think that the current Pajero will be the last of its type from Mitsubishi.
Speaking to 4X4 Australia at the Tokyo Motor Show recently, Mitsubishi president and CEO, Tetsuro Aikawa, refused to confirm plans for a new Pajero, despite the current model being more than 15 years old. But he also fell short of confirming the model’s global demise, saying that the “current Pajero will continue for some time.” How much time the brand can stretch the Pajero platform, or what will likely happen once it reaches its limit, he wouldn’t say. But if you look at the signals the company has been giving, it might just be that future Mitsubishi off-roaders will be electric- or hybrid-powered vehicles.
“Weight and fuel economy are the big issues (for off-road vehicles),” Mr Aikawa confirmed.
“Tighter emissions for Europe come into force in 2020, so rather than a Pajero type of vehicle, people will be looking for lower emissions and better fuel economy. So electric vehicles come into focus.”
Meanwhile, the other hint is in the next new model from Mitsubishi, which will be a compact SUV to slot in between the current ASX and Outlander line-ups. Though based on the Outlander platform, the new model would be closer in concept to an ASX, but would involve a more luxurious specification.
Mr Aikawa confirmed there would be a plug-in hybrid, a petrol version and a diesel version of the unnamed newcomer. The plan at this stage is to launch the new compact SUV on to global markets in 2017.
If nothing else, this is an indication of where the brand has elected to put its tight development resources. And tight they are: Mitsubishi is looking for a development partner to create the successor of the Lancer small sedan and hatch range, but despite admitting to talks with Renault, there are no plans to develop a new Lancer.
“A C-segment (Lancer-sized) sedan is not a priority. It’s very hard to find a (development) partner. If we could find a partner, we could develop a new model, but right now, we can’t find that partner.”
Clearly, investing the billion-dollar-plus budget to develop a new, big off-roader that can’t even be sold into Europe is not on Mitsubishi’s radar.
Back in February 2014, we reported from the 2013 Tokyo Show that it could be 2017 before we saw a replacement for the ageing Pajero and it would most likely be a plug-in hybrid vehicle based on the GC-PHEV concept on display at the time. Mitsubishi Product Planning chief Ryugo Nakao told 4X4 Australia that despite the efficiency, “We will make sure we will conserve the ability of Pajero expected by customers.”
Two years on, in the face or looming emission regulations and budgetary constraints, it seems that Mr Nakao may not be able to keep true to his word.
Time will tell, but the future of big, heavy off-road vehicles doesn’t look good.