Diaz: Reasons for optimism
LOS ANGELES — Mitsubishi Motors North America CEO Fred Diaz said in May that he was looking forward to the benefits of being in the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, including shared technologies and platforms across the brands.
Then a shockwave rippled through the vast global alliance last month when Chairman Carlos Ghosn was arrested in Japan and dismissed for alleged financial improprieties.
It was Ghosn who crafted the bicontinental partnership that rose to contend with Volkswagen Group as the world’s biggest vehicle producer, and who fused the companies in ways that would make it hard to separate them. His arrest cast a cloud of uncertainty over the alliance’s leadership structure and how it will function going forward.
Not to worry, says Diaz to current and potential Mitsubishi dealers. Before the Ghosn turmoil, Diaz said he had his eyes set on leveraging the shared platforms to bolster the Mitsubishi lineup. And he still does.
During an interview at the Los Angeles Auto Show last week, Diaz said he hasn’t been told anything that would indicate that those products won’t be coming as planned. Mitsubishi vehicles on a shared alliance platform could begin to emerge around 2021.
The goal now is to plow ahead, he said, and continue to handle “business as usual.”
Diaz took over as CEO of Mitsubishi Motors North America in April amid a five-year run of sales gains in the U.S. That momentum, assisted by the debut of the Eclipse Cross this year, has continued in 2018. Sales through October are up 17 percent.
“We have a tremendous leadership team across the globe,” said Diaz, who spent nearly eight months working at Mitsubishi Motors Corp.’s Japan headquarters in the global marketing and sales division after five years with Nissan North America.
“I don’t particularly think that we’re going to be in a bad position from a leadership standpoint,” he said. “I think we’re well positioned to continue what we’re doing. Nothing has changed. Let’s keep going.”
While the post-Ghosn alliance takes shape, Diaz believes there are reasons for optimism.
The Eclipse Cross and Outlander PHEV, for instance, are drawing consumers of a higher stature who boast stronger credit scores than what Mitsubishi has seen in the past.
Diaz is turning his attention to Las Vegas, where the automaker will share its product plans with its dealers during its national meeting this month. They’ll get a look at upcoming product enhancements and hear details on what’s in store from the alliance.
Las Vegas will also be a milestone for the brand’s awareness that week. Mitsubishi is serving as the title sponsor of college football’s Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 15, the first time Mitsubishi Motors North America has been a title sponsor for a bowl game. The deal runs two years.
The Vegas gathering could also serve as a way to reassure future dealers. Diaz said the company is considering whether to bring in prospective dealers who have signed letters of intent, so they know what’s on tap. The company has already begun communicating with dealer prospects in the wake of the Ghosn news, he added.
“The alliance, the projects and the focus of where we’re going as an alliance team is well intact,” he said. “We’re moving forward and staying focused.”
Hans Greimel and Bloomberg contributed to this report.