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THE
PETRO-SEXUAL

Kotto is taking aim at the once-dominant Subaru and Mitsubishi. Where did it all go wrong?

I


ndulge me if you will in a little game. Picture in your head, right now, a Subaru. I can probably bet good money the first thing that pops into your head is an Impreza 22b in trademark WRC Blue Mica. And now picture a Mitsubishi - I’m confident I’m currently living rent-free in your head because you’re seeing a Passion Red Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution rally car. Incredible machines

that were born onto the rallying world stage and became legendary homologation streetcars as a result of dominating championships around the world. Both were piloted by royalty - Richard Burns, Tommi Makinen, Francois Delecour and Colin Mcrae to name a few. Subaru versus Mitsubishi has spawned endless debate on which company, which car and which driver was the very best.

And now the year is 2021, and the most interesting thing to happen to either company in years is these once fierce rivals have teamed up, alas sadly not to create a new forest stage warrior, but to sell cars - Subaru will take care of importing Mitsubishi’s to the UK. Sadly this is a precursor to Mitsubishi pulling out of Europe altogether, indeed the company has recently auctioned off its entire heritage fleet. It’s not hard to see why - looking at the Mitsubishi model lineup is just the most tragic thing, loaded with dreary hatchbacks and tax dodging pick-ups - not a single model appeals to the enthusiast. Subaru is sticking around but is facing collapsing sales in a highly competitive market and I can’t help but think their time is limited. They seem to sell the same car of varying heights but with different names; a Forester, an Outback, Levorg and Outback and as usual the pointless hybrid variants. Like the Mitsubishis they’re all soulless, drab and devoid of any sort of charisma to get you out of your Swedish armchair and into a dealership. You’ll look at the lineup, close the tab and start looking at Swedish cars to match your furniture.

I strongly believe that any car manufacturer without at least one car that people want, not need but actively want and yearn to buy… Is doomed. They have nothing to market, nothing to use as a test-bed for innovative and fun features. Even sensible Saabs had a turbo-petrol and a night-panel feature; something to aim for. Back in t’day as Craig Toone would say, Mitsubishi had some incredible cars in their line up; Galant VR4, 3000GT, FTO, Eclipse Coupe, Legnum VR4 and of course the Lancer Evolution. All interesting, fast, varying shades of practical and great lookers. All of which are now highly sought-after and rapidly rising in value. And Subaru, every edition of their Impreza was gold. From a bog-standard non-turbo estate to a full fat RB320 UGM-109 nuclear capable intercontinental cruise missile. And then you had the bigger Legacy that also came with a turbocharged boxer engine in saloon and estate guise which were fantastic or the even bigger Forester STI if the Legacy wasn’t rugged enough for you. The lesser models were just as cool, SVX is simply a UFO, the Brat and even the Baja were great.

So why are both of these great companies failing? My impression is they’re simply not excelling at anything and cashed in on the SUV trend without really offering anything with imagination. They aren’t especially great value, better equipped or well-designed they’re just car companies building cars to sell en-masse. Manufacturers always fall in and out of fashion and Mitsubishi/Subaru are proof of this. In the 90s you’d buy a Subaru because you wanted a robust, reliable car. A Mitsubishi for something technical and fast. But with all manufacturers now adhering to much higher standards there’s no such thing as an unreliable car and all cars have become exceptionally technical machines. 

How would I fix this? Really analyze the market, Aston Martin’s DBX was late to the party but it’s excelling because it does the best thing of various other luxury SUVs but in a complete package – Aston researched and figured out what the market needed. Just adding another platform shared SUV onto the pile would be doomed to failure. Could Mitsubishi offer an L200 which is a good pick-up truck but for the price of a Suzuki truck or Subaru offer a full-electric, rugged Outback estate that undercut the hateful mild-hybrid/EV compact crossovers? They should keep one eye on the past and one on the future and try to reintroduce what they were best known for in the golden years and capitalize on it. Make an EV that’s for once interesting, capable and fast without it looking like a deflated hearse (Prius/Ioniq) or explore e-fuels/hydrogen by placing a car in the WRC. 

It’s time to stop being a brick in a wall and start making cars people will want to buy, because clearly the endless amount of SUVs they’re making aren’t selling. Start selling what others are not.