LAEM CHABANG, Thailand -- Mitsubishi executives are adamant Americans won't care that the Mirage is made in Thailand.
U.S. customers will buy the hatchback for the features, such as its 40 mpg, easy handling and efficient use of interior space. Not to mention the sub-$14,000 sticker.
Plus, it plugs a huge hole in the lineup and finally gives U.S. dealers something new to park on the lot.
But there are still some nagging questions: Will its three-cylinder, 1.2-liter engine be zesty enough for U.S. highways? And why not bring in the sedan version?
Mitsubishi could be sitting on solutions to both quandaries.
Production of a sedan variant, called the Attrage in Thailand and the Mirage G4 in the Philippines, began here this summer. Mitsubishi is studying a possible U.S. launch.
"We have to first watch how the Mirage is received in America. Is it selling well?" said Mitsunori Kitao, COO of Mitsubishi Motors Thailand Co. and a U.S. market veteran who worked at Mitsubishi Motors Corp.'s assembly plant in Normal, Ill.
But the heavier sedan would be a further strain on the Mirage's already small engine. And layout restrictions mean Mitsubishi can't swap it for a larger engine to compete with rivals in the 1.4- to 1.6-liter range.
"U.S. people might require more acceleration. So we are not sure if it has marketability or not," says Ryujiro Kobashi, corporate general manager in charge of North America marketing and global small-car projects.
"Perception is very important, even though the market is moving toward downsizing."
One solution might be turbocharging.
Mitsubishi is considering a downsized turbo version to get more power from the smaller engine.
The car goes up against the likes of the Chevrolet Spark, Nissan Versa and Toyota Yaris. Mitsubishi says its cars can get better fuel economy and acceleration than rivals with bigger engines because the sedan and hatchback weigh less.
"The response of the dealers has been very good," Kobashi said.
Mitsubishi expects to sell only 600 units a month in the United States, for a rather paltry annual goal of 7,200 vehicles.
Nissan racked up 113,327 U.S. sales of the segment-leading Versa last year.
But perhaps because it will be Mitsubishi's first new offering since the 2011 debut of the Outlander Sport small crossover, eager U.S. dealers have already placed 6,600 orders for the car.
Source : http://www.autonews.com/article/20131014/GLOBAL02/310149977/high-hopes-that-thai-built-mirage-will-cut-it-in-u.s.425