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Tyrrell strives for a greater awareness

Jim Tyrrell, after six months as managing director of Mitsubishi Motors UK, is forthright about one issue: “People will not buy that many cars over the internet. Dotcoms will never be able to replace traditional dealers.”

And that from an executive who is barely 39, and yet already has extensive experience with Ford.

“There was a growing feeling in the industry three or four years ago that the internet was the way to go,” he said. “But the complexity of the car-buying transaction is such that people will always want to go to a dealer. We have to make that experience better.

“The internet will be used as a research tool but the days of logging-on and buying a car are a long way off. People will buy books, CDs and lower end mail order goods that don't need physical representation, but not cars.”

Mr Tyrrell moved to Mitsubishi Motors UK – based at Cirencester, Gloucs – after 14 years with Ford.

He joined Ford of Britain marketing as a graduate trainee in 1986 and since 1998 had been the marketing director of Mazda Motors Europe. It was a wealth of experience to bring to a small importer of Japanese cars.

His appointment ended a long search by acting boss Denis Murphy to find a replacement for Stephen Dixon who departed in 1999 and was followed by a string of other executives. Mr Tyrrell found morale at Cirencester low and an unhappy dealer network. But he is happy at his new helm and welcomes the decision by DaimlerChrysler to take a controlling interest in Mitsubishi.

“I am convinced DaimlerChrysler will fundamentally guarantee a focused product cycle consistent with Mitsubishi's brand identity,” he said.

“I see DC's involvement primarily being a corporate, head office exercise at the moment. I am sure that at some point in the future – a long way away yet – they may start thinking about distribution.”

Working for companies selling 20,000 or 400,000 cars a year was similar – “you still have to manage the relationships with the dealers and marketing campaigns”. “There is also the need for a public perspective and understanding of what you're trying to be. You must manage and motivate your people properly and place a lot of emphasis on field work.

“That's the change of direction to where we were before. We have well-qualified, mature, experienced people doing the right things with the dealers.” Mr Tyrrell – a car nut, with an MGA sports car in his garage –- said Mitsubishi's UK product line-up was too complex.

“We have done a pretty dramatic rationalisation and you have to do that when you are a Japanese player with long lead times,” he said. “You can't afford to offer everything to everybody.”

Carisma was reduced from more than 200 variants to 30 “and we may have some way to go on that”, he said. That has been repeated across the range, with much greater use being made of the import centre at Bristol's Royal Portbury Dock.

The facility is used to customise vehicles so Mitsubishi can still offer greater variety. “We can basically do it on customer orders – things like leather seats and audios,” said Mr Tyrrell.

“We will grow to 150 dealers from 125 and we were at 115. We are finding it quite easy to fill the open points which is pleasing.”

One big issue is dealer profitability. The top 25% are profitable but too many are at break-even and some are “poor”.

“Not making unrealistic demands on new dealers is important. They need to invest in the right people and training, rather than worry about the quality of the tiling in the showroom.”

Mr Tyrrell was pleasantly surprised by the quality and commitment of the staff at Cirencester. The problems were probably caused by failing to meet over-ambitious growth targets (2% of the UK market).

He is confident the marque will sell more cars and thinks Mitsubishi has an awareness rather than image problem. “Owners think of Mitsubishi as a prestigious Japanese brand, but people who haven't owned one are unaware of what the brand represents,” he said.

He embraces grey imports to the extent that used Mitsubishis from Japan are being sold through the company's Red Zebra used car scheme.

“We're better equipped than anyone else to look after these customers,” said Mr Tyrrell. “The previous view that they should be ignored was totally erroneous. If we look after them, they'll come back to us.” Mr Tyrrell plays tennis and enjoys cricket and rugby, so welcomes the company's sponsorship of the MCC at Lords. He is continuing with Mitsubishi UK's sponsorship of the Badminton Horse Trials – that, he believes, was something the previous management got right.

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