PORTLAND, OR – The popularEclipse, which saw its U.S. production end recently, could see a comeback, a top company official tells WardsAuto.
The Eclipse “always comes back around sooner or later,” Greg Adams,Motors North America’s vice president-marketing and product planning, says during a media preview of the i electric car here.
Mitsubishi’s presence in the U.S. midsize sedan market also may have a future. The brand’s current entry, the Galant, is set to exit showrooms before 2013.
But a solid business case must be made for each. “There needs to be sufficient market demand,” Adams says, adding demand has “peaked” for sporty cars in the same category as the Eclipse.
The Eclipse is classified as a Middle Specialty car, according to WardsAuto segmentation. In 2010, the group accounted for 218,049 deliveries, compared with 1.05 million in 1980, its top sales year according to WardsAuto data.
The Eclipse saw its best performance in 2002 with 72,040 deliveries. Through August, sales were tracking 105.4% ahead of like-2010, but totaled just 6,721 units.
The car helped define Mitsubishi in the 1990s and early 2000s, providing a high-performance halo for the brand.
Last week, Mitsubishi auctioned off the last Eclipse, an SE-grade model with a unique black paint chosen by Facebook followers. Proceeds have been donated to Japan’s Red Cross earthquake and tsunami relief fund.
Mitsubishi claims the Eclipse, assembled at its plant in Normal, IL, is the most-successful U.S.-market sports car from a Japanese auto maker in the past 20 years.
Mitsubishi sold 982,024 units in the U.S. since the car’s 1989 launch, more than any other nameplate in its segment.
But as the Japanese auto maker pursues improved fuel economy with the i EV and the upcoming plug-in hybrid Outlander Sport cross/utility vehicle, it is eliminating the Eclipse, Galant and Endeavor SUV. The move will leave Mitsubishi with two car nameplates and one light truck.
The Galant ends its run at Normal before 2013, but Adams says a future midsize sedan from Mitsubishi isn't off the table. The argument against marketing such a product is that the segment is, with the exception of lower-volume regions such as the Middle East, peculiar to the U.S.
“If we can make the numbers work between this market and other markets, we need to take a look at it,” Adams says.
After many lean years in the past decade, Mitsubishi's U.S. sales through August tallied 60,072, a 65% jump from like-2010. But reaching the promised 100,000-unit milestone may take longer than predicted.
In January 2010, a former MMNA executive told WardsAuto the brand could hit 100,000 deliveries per year by 2013. Adams pushes the goal farther back, due to fallout from the global economic downturn.
“That is a medium-term goal of ours, but it’s probably not (reachable in) 2013 given the recession,” he says. “But probably not too far off.”