CHICAGO – In the wake of slower-than-expected sales for the Mitsubishi Endeavor cross/utility vehicle, Mitsubishi Motors North America Inc. is pulling the plug on its Montero Sport SUV, Ward’s has learned.

The ailing Japanese auto maker blames Endeavor’s slow out-of-the-box start on cannibalization from its truck-based Montero Sport. The SUV and CUV compete in the same size segment and at similar price points. Combined, they add up to increased utility-vehicle sales in the segment for Mitsubishi, says a spokesperson. But separately, neither has met expectations.

Mitsubishi Montero Sport

This is the second time Mitsubishi has announced the death of the Montero Sport. Its first obituary coincided with the birth announcement of the Endeavor, a CUV designed specifically for the U.S. market and produced at the auto maker’s Normal, IL, manufacturing facility.

The Endeavor was supposed to replace the Montero Sport immediately. But prior to its launch, Mitsubishi was living the best of times in the U.S. market. Sales were skyrocketing to unprecedented levels, and all of its products – including the aging, Japan-built Montero Sport – were extremely successful.

So even though Mitsubishi publicly killed off the vehicle, it changed its mind and decided to keep it on board – developing a fleet of CUVs and SUVs that became core to the brand’s identity.

The heady success was short-lived.

Mitsubishi originally forecast that it would sell 80,000 Endeavors annually. But between its sales launch in March 2003 and the end of the year, it only sold 32,054 units. The year’s sales for Montero Sport totaled 20,306. The results were indicative of a dismal year for the auto maker, which saw sales slip 25.6% to 257,452 units.

As Mitsubishi works to remake its brand image, it sees no encouragement from the first month of 2004. Sales of 15,875 units represent a slip of 14.2% from December and 35.8% from year-ago totals of 23,769 units. Endeavor sales in January slid to 2,436 units while only 1,190 Montero Sports were sold in the month.

kzachary@primediabusiness.com