Mitsubishi has been an also-ran in the automotive industry for years. Once known for fire breathing turbo cars that always popped up in Jackie Chan movies, the most we’ve heard out of them in recent history is that they’ve been cheating fuel economy tests for the past 25 years by overinflating tires. Volkswagen, who just surpassed Toyota to become the largest auto manufacturer in the world again, has the strong sales, good products, and resources to survive a major scandal. The same can’t be said for Mitsubishi. Half their market value is already gone. Who knows if they will even survive.
But there is a way. It even has historical precedent. Fiat-Chrysler has been desperately searching for a manufacturer to merge with. Having been rebuffed by both GM and Ford, the only place left to look is outside the US. Why not Mitsubishi? They’ve partnered up before, from 1970 through 1995 – the Diamond Star Motors years. Most of us are familiar with the Dodge Colt, which was simply a rebadged Mitsubishi Colt or Mirage. A few remember the Starion. People were thrilled when Dodge brought back the Challenger in 2008, but not many remember the second generation of 1978-1983, based on the Mitsubishi Galant Lambda. A high school friend of mine had a Challenger very much like this one. I’d never seen one before, and I’ve almost never seen one since.
But most of us do remember the many great cars that came out of this partnership in the 1990s – the Galant VR4, the 3000GT/Dodge Stealth, and the Eclipse/Laser/Talon, much to Matt Farah’s delight. This particular DSM, Bobby Archer’s former race car, has personally kicked my ass on the race track. I might as well have been in reverse rather than third gear, it passed my BRZ so quickly. The Lancer Evolution was never sold under a Chrysler nameplate, but the 4G63 drivetrain that began in DSMs lived on all the way up through the Evo IX.
FCA has already abandoned the small car market and banked their entire future on trucks and SUVs, particularly Jeeps. I think this is extremely short sighted of them. Although the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200 weren’t particularly successful, the rise of gas prices is inevitable and has already started. FCA has openly stated that they want to find someone to build small cars for them “who is better at it than we are and who has got capacity available.” A merger with Mitsubishi would give FCA an instant small car line – the Mirage and the Lancer. The Outlander’s future would be uncertain, but FCA has a strong truck and SUV line to replace it. I suppose if Rams are too big to export to Japan and they need a more European style alternative, they could send over a Fiat Toro and call it a day.
The Chrysler/Mitsubishi relationship has always been an ironic one. In World War II, Mitsubishi made the A6M “Zero” fighter that was the bane of the United States Army Air Forces, while Chrysler built the engines for the B-29s that dropped the atomic bomb on Japan. They became partners in Diamond Star Motors, but Mitsubishi bought out Chrysler’s interest in the venture in 1991. Both companies have floundered since then. Chrysler had a brief
assimilation, resistance is futile partnership with Daimler (Mercedes), followed by their current one with Fiat.
Mitsubishi has pretty much gone it alone, but sticks their fingers into so many business areas other than cars that they’ve managed to last this long. Their automotive arm was just starting to increase profits, both globally and in North America, but this new scandal has put an abrupt end to that as the company’s value is in freefall. Now would be a great time for FCA to swoop in like an eagle, grab Mitsubishi in their talons, and then both companies fly off to build awesome cars together again.