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Car confidential: Mitsubishi turns un-Japanese



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Have you seen the charming film ‘Lost in Translation’, in which Bill Murray spends a week baffled by Japanese culture? It’s spot on. Take the Tokyo motor show – it’s as crazy as buying a return ticket to the sun. The names are nuts (Mazda Bongo Friendee, Nissan Cedric) and concept ‘cars’ look more suitable for growing tomatoes in than going to the greengrocers.

It’s a different world. Not only are the Japanese ultra-polite, they are more reserved than the tables at the Boxwood Café. However, Mitsubishi Motors is turning un-Japanese – its very survival depends on it.

Previously an executive would have committed hari kari rather than divulge the merest snippet about a forthcoming new model. Now the company is flashing sneak previews of the Lancer Evo X on giant screens at press conferences.

Boy, is it different. Swooping roofline and coupe-like glasshouse, and a face that will rattle cattle. This hero model has been rushed forward to mid-2006, as Mitsubishi seeks to revive its flagging brand. The basic Lancer will hit the UK around then, filling the gap left by the Carisma (RIP).

Under the skin is all-new front- and all-wheel drive platform, co-developed with Chrysler. Expect a broad range of fourpot petrol engines, as well as the trademark 2.0-litre in naturally aspirated and turbo guise for the Evo. The nose accommodates V6s too, and the 135bhp 2.0-litre TDi bought in from VW.

The first outing for this platform, codenamed GS, will be under the all-new Space Star mini-MPV in late 2005. GS will also underpin the Airtrek/Outlander Mk II.

Mitsubishi is promising 10 new cars in Europe between April 2004 and 2007. The haul includes the familiar Grandis MPV, the three-door Colt CZ3 and very probably a Colt 2+2 convertible. And bosses know replacing the iconic Shogun is crucial, too, so we can expect a new 4x4 around 2007, heavily influenced by the Pajero Evo concept.

So, as executives unusually admit: “We have a pipeline full of cars.” Will Mitsubishi survive to turn on the tap? Don’t bet against it. Another Japanese trait – pride – should see to that.

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