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Posted by: Ian Rowley on November 14, 2006
It’s been a rough few years for employees at Mitsubishi Motors. They’ve endured a huge recall cover-up scandal, a failed alliance with DaimlerChrysler and, for a car company of Mitsubishi’s size, mind-boggling losses.
Small wonder, then, that a couple of awards for the Mitsubishi i minicar have got Mitsubishi staffers in Japan smiling again. On October 25, the 660cc i was awarded the prestigious Good Design Grand Prize by Japan’s Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry. The i has also just won a “best car” gong from the Automotive Researchers’ & Journalists’ Conference of Japan (RJC) and is in with a shout for Japan’s Car of the Year Award. That would be no small feat given that other nominees include Mercedes E320 CDi green diesel and Lexus LS460.
How long CEO Osamu Masuko can keep Mitsubishi employees smiling, though, is far from clear. Financial meltdown seems to be at an end, but the company is still barely breaking even at a time when Japanese rivals like Toyota, Honda and Nissan all have profit margins in excess of 7%. On October 30, the company said it was cutting its unit sales target for the current financial year by 86,000 to 1.32 million. Perhaps more telling, credit for the i’s success has to be shared with DaimlerChrysler and employees at affiliated companies. DaimlerChrysler designer Olivier Boulay headed the i design team—something the Japanese company doesn’t go out of its way to acknowledge—while rumors persist that employees at other Mitsubishi group companies, such as Mitsubishi Heavy and Mitsubishi Corp, were encouraged to boost sales of the i after its launch in January. For all that, anything that raises morale at the struggling automaker can’t be a bad thing.
Want the straight scoop on the auto industry? Detroit bureau chief David Welch , Dexter Roberts and Ian Rowley bring daily scoop, keen observations and provocative perspective on the auto business from around the globe. Read their take on such weighty issues as Detroit’s attempt at a comeback, Toyota’s quest for dominance and the search for an efficient car.