It's been a good year for a brand that had been all but counted out two years ago. Mitsubishi sales have been up each month in the U.S. for over a year. Last month, sales were up another 17% versus the year before. The auto brand is also among top brands in terms of the percentage increase in sales versus the second quarter last year. Mitsubishi also saw its market share spike. But how far the brand still has to go is reflected in its share -- about three quarters of a percent of the U.S. market -- putting it a hair's breadth ahead of Volvo.
The company has just launched its national campaign for its electric car the Mitsubishi i, with both traditional and digital efforts around its electrification of Normal, Ill., where it manufactures cars, plus the "Mitsubishi i 100% Electric Experience" test drive tour of Oregon, Washington and California.
Gregory Adams, VP of marketing at the Cypress, Calif.-based Mitsubishi Motors North America, talks with Marketing Daily about the Mitsubishi i and the brand.
Q: I know a big piece of the Mitsubishi i campaign involves video content about "EVTown" (Normal, Ill.), but it seems like a regional West Coast-focused campaign?
A: There's TV, the web, CRM efforts, in-store, banners and other elements. The rollout starts on the West Coast but it will be nationally available and a national campaign. The cars start arriving end of November in Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and California, and then in the Northeast next spring with the two remaining markets -- the Southeast and middle portion of the country -- rolling out before the end of the calendar year. This is a three-month quarterly campaign and it's national. We will bring the experiential [ride and drive] campaign to the East Coast next year.
Q: Why is this a good time for another alternative-powertrain vehicle?
A: I can't speak to hybrids other than we have competitors with plug-in hybrids, but I think that as long as you have this volatile situation of increasing gas prices -- a couple of years ago gas hit four dollars, then headed down. Now it's creeping up again -- people now understand this is not going to go the other way. Our longer-term goal is to bring more eco-friendly technology, more fuel-efficient vehicles to market. The biggest challenge really is changing the perception that this new technology is something like having an electric golf cart. The point is that once people get in, they understand what it can do and that's why we are doing an experiential program. You realize how quiet it is, how intuitive it is, there is no learning curve.
Q: What favors Mitsubishi in the electric car playing field?
A: Two basic things are working to support us in the market: general familiarity by consumers with alternative powertrains and with electrics over the past year, and competition. And another piece is national and local regulations that are quite demanding in terms of how many vehicles can spew CO2, so supply and demand will work to make sure there are vehicles in the market appealing to consumers. Most people, given a choice -- when there isn't a major premium involved -- would prefer to have a car that doesn't contribute CO2. I think that's a general statement, but the point is you can do it without a big price premium and that's what we are offering.
Q: Who is this car going to appeal to?
A: "I" is a vehicle that can go 70 miles on a single charge, so we see it as a second car for people who realize they can use one conventional car for weekends, and an electric for commuting. The other demographic is empty-nesters, who also have two cars but don't need so much for their lifestyle range.
Q: Looking at the brand, where is Mitsubishi now in terms of consideration and awareness?
A: If you look at the past 10 months, we are the fastest-growing major OEM in the market. We grew sales 59% last month versus the month last year. It really goes back to September last year when we launched the Outlander Sport [with a web campaign in which the company let people remotely "drive" a real Outlander sport]. As a follow-up we focused on styling. It's a simple and emotional message: these are great-looking vehicles with great capability.
Now Outlander Sport has become our No. 1-selling nameplate, but the Outlander Sport campaign is also selling lots of Lancers and other vehicles.
Q: How about consumer awareness of Mitsubishi as an auto brand?
A: We can also see from data from GfK Group that since last year, awareness is now at that of Subaru or Mazda with a much smaller spend, so we think we are being effective both with creative and with follow-up online. Integration has been the key thing we have focused on once establishing broader awareness and connection.