PORTLAND, OR – Mitsubishi rolls out a new U.S. advertising campaign this week featuring its upcoming i electric car, which should be easier to sell thanks to the heavy lifting done by the competition.

“I'm looking forward to launching this car because I know all the attention (the Nissan) Leaf and (Chevy) Volt are getting. They've basically done the work for us in a lot of ways,” Greg Adams, vice president-marketing for Mitsubishi Motors North America, tells WardsAuto in an interview here.

“They've educated people (on EVs), and now we’re offering an alternative…at $5,000, $6,000, $7,000 less.”

A new Mitsubishi-brand ad campaign focusing on the i and breaking on TV and the Internet showcases the town of Normal, IL, where the auto maker’s sole U.S. manufacturing plant is located. The city is diving into the electrification movement by pledging to purchase up to 1,000 Mitsubishi EVs and install 30 480V quick-charge stations.

In the commercial Mitsubishi recently posted to its YouTube channel, Normal residents extol the merits of electrification, interspersed with scenes of farm fields and the i driving through downtown. The tagline “The New Normal” appears at the end.

Mitsubishi doesn’t want to shower interested buyers with data specifications. Rather, it is promoting the i as a second car and a viable lifestyle choice, Adams says.

Mitsubishi says it expects i buyers to be in their mid-30s to mid-50s and wealthier than a typical purchaser of the Outlander Sport cross/utility vehicle, who has a $75,000-$80,000 annual household income. The auto maker anticipates its new EV will be popular with consumers who have an annual household income of $100,000.

“We're not going to target to some 18 year-old-kid who loves the (Lancer) EVO and might get (an i) when he's getting out of school,” Adams says. With the i EV, “we know who the target is, we know where they exist and we'll pinpoint that.”

Mitsubishi does not plan to spend anywhere near the hundreds of millions of dollars that Nissan and General Motors reportedly are putting into marketing their electric cars, on sale in the U.S. since late last year.

Mitsubishi, which has seen its yearly U.S. sales drop from the 300,000-unit range in the early 2000s to less than 100,000 in recent years, instead is thinking of unusual, more cost-effective ways to get its message out to consumers.

“I used to work for Ferarri, and Ferarri spends zero money on advertising,” Adams says. “Absolutely nothing. They spend all that money on events or (public relations). And both of those two venues become your advertising if you effectively use it.

“So that could be brought in to Mitsubishi, to a certain extent. We’re a different type of brand, but you could leverage the same mind-thought.”

Working toward Adams’ goals, Mitsubishi is undertaking a consumer test-drive tour that includes the cities of Portland, Seattle, San Diego and Los Angeles. These, along with other towns on the tour, are located in the i’s initial West Coast-launch states.

Adams, who notes Mitsubishi’s consumer awareness is on par with Mazda and Subaru, credits recent outside-the-box marketing campaigns for the brand’s 59.1% year-over-year U.S. sales spike through September.

The auto maker delivered 65,875 vehicles in the year’s first nine months, compared with Mazda’s 191,315 and Subaru’s 195,550, WardsAuto data shows.


New ad campaign showcases manufacturing plant hometown.

In the past year, Mitsubishi has conducted two unusual campaigns, Adams says. One promoted the Outlander Sport via an Internet-based “remote-controlled” test drive.

The other touted the Outlander Sport’s All-Wheel-Control system via winter testing on a frozen lake in Alberta, Canada. The CUV broke five Guinness world records, including the shortest braking distance for a vehicle on ice, the auto maker claims.

“We had a very effective Outlander Sport campaign,” Adams says. “We had a reasonable budget, and we exceeded (our targets).”

Mitsubishi saw more people than expected, some 52,000, sign up and provide contact information related to the remote-controlled test drive. Additionally, Adams says he appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and was in USA Today twice in 10 days “because this was a new way to sell a car.”

The Guinness world record campaign saw Mitsubishi garner it highest-ever Web traffic in February, March and April.

Adams says all of Mitsubishi’s marketing efforts build on the notion of attainable technology (and) “the fact we do fun and different things and also that our styling of the cars stand out.”

Once the i is established in customers’ minds, Adams calculates Mitsubishi by 2013 will be launching a plug-in hybrid vehicle, a variant of the Outlander Sport.

“(Then) it will be easier for people (to say), ‘Yeah, Mitsubishi, the Outlander Sport; they also do that i EV thing. That makes sense; they got the technology.’ That's my main point,” Adams says.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com