Hiring a New Marketing Agency Isn’t a Sign That Mitsubishi’s Leaving America

2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross - Image: MitsubishiBetween its peak in 2002 and the depths of the recession in 2009, Mitsubishi’s U.S. sales plunged 84 percent. Market share plunged from more than 2 percent to less than half of 1 percent. Could the company survive in America?

The loss of product gave observers even more reason to doubt the brand’s staying power. Bigger SUVs such as the Montero and Endeavor disappeared. Mitsubishi’s midsize sedan, the Galant, generated its final sales in early 2014, a decade after the Mitsubishi Diamante departed. The discontinuation of the Eclipse and Lancer Evolution spelled the end of Mitsubishi’s performance bona fides. Then Mitsubishi also ended the Lancer, leaving the Mirage G4 to fight America’s sedan battle.

Meanwhile, Mitsubishi’s plans to bolster its U.S. lineup haven’t always translated to reality. The Outlander plug-in hybrid was initially bound for the U.S. market in 2014 or 2015 — it’s still not here. As for U.S. production, which Mitsubishi’s president Osamu Masuko said in 2013 would not end, the final U.S.-built Mitsubishi rolled off the Illinois line last year.

Despite the heavy load of evidence that would support the belief that Mitsubishi Motors USA was on its death bed, Mitsubishi is on track in 2017 to sell 100,000 vehicles in the U.S. for the first time since 2007, having enjoyed five consecutive years of growth. Settling in for the long haul, Mitsubishi has also signed Mini’s old ad agency, Butler Shine Stern Partners.

According to Automotive News, Butler Shine Stern Partners’ surrendered its contract with BMW’s Mini brand, which it had held since 2005, earlier this year. Sharp cost-cutting from Mini removed some duties from BSSP and shoved them back to BMW’s main agency, Universal McCann. Regular mandated reviews of what California-based BSSP called a “very strong” 11-year relationship may have begun to chafe, as well.

Nevertheless, BSSP garnered attention for campaigns such as the Mini Clubman’s Defy Labels, a Super Bowl effort that centered on athletes such as Serena Williams, Tony Hawk, and Randy Johnson; a sometimes edgy campaign featuring Abby Wambach, as well.2017 Mini Defy Labels Superbowl Ad Abby Wambach - Image: MiniIt’s difficult to imagine Mitsubishi heading in a similar direction, but for a brand with few attention-grabbing cars, an attention-grabbing marketing campaign wouldn’t go amiss. Until the Eclipse Cross launches as part of Mitsubishi’s growing crossover lineup, the brand is relying on the Mirage (up 5 percent to 16,804 sales so far this year), Outlaner Sport (down 9 percent to 20,874), and Outlander (up 33 percent to 23,260) to capture the minds of U.S. buyers.

For the past seven years, Mitsubishi was linked with Omnicom-owned 180LA. The brand’s last major marketing splash involved a link-up between the 2018 Eclipse Cross and August 21’s solar eclipse. Make of that what you will.

[Images: Mitsubishi Motors]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.