This month will mark the start of a milestone year for Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (MMC) as it is about to celebrate forty years of non-stop presence in the most strategic European market, from its first official display at the London Motor Show in October 1974 to the launch of the pioneering Outlander PHEV from late 2013 onwards.
Mitsubishi Goes International
Even though small numbers of Mitsubishi vehicles were already present in a few selected European countries, namely Spain (1956) and Greece (1962), Mitsubishi’s own corporate export move to Europe came as a result of a unique agreement in February 1970 between Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Co. (MHI) and Chrysler Corporation whereby MHI would 1) spin off its already existing auto division and 2) join forces with Chrysler to create “Mitsubishi Motors Corporation” (MMC).
In May 1971, a further deal between Mitsubishi Motors Corporation and Chrysler International S.A. included the distribution of Mitsubishi vehicles through the global Chrysler International dealer network, except for Japan, the United States and Canada.
In a separate move, MMC became a joint company, shared by MHI (85%) and Chrysler Corporation (15%) from September 1971.
1974 London Motor Show
However, restricted by the terms of this agreement, Mitsubishi Motors sales remained very limited in Europe (4,861 units in total between 1971 and 1975) at a time sales of other Japanese brands soared, increasing from 16,458 units in 1965 to 126,275 units in 1970, to reach 528,486 units in 1975.
Eventually, in 1974, MMC and Chrysler International reached an agreement allowing MMC to develop its own sales & marketing activities in Europe.
From thereon, distribution rights were granted to independent companies, first in Belgium & Luxemburg (August 1974), followed within a few weeks by the Netherlands and then the United Kingdom, the country where Mitsubishi Motors is officially launched in Europe at the London Motor Show in October.
Lancer and Galant are both introduced at that milestone motor show and then made available to the European public from 1975 in those three countries, after similar successful unveilings at the Brussels Motor Show and the Amsterdam Motor Show (AutoRAI).
The rest of Europe will follow in due course, whether open to Japanese imports (e.g. Germany in 1977) or restricted by quotas (e.g. France in 1978). In the meantime, the agreement with Chrysler International had reached an end in August 1982, whilst MMC had already established a first liaison office in Rotterdam in 1977, the forerunner of today’s Mitsubishi Motors Europe B.V. still based in the Netherlands.
A European Palette
Over forty years, Mitsubishi Motors sales  have grown substantially in Europe: from the few early units retailed in 1975 in only 3 countries to last fiscal year’s 92,411 units in the (today) 34 countries of MME’s commercial territory (i.e. excl. Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan), its top three markets being:
Germany: 22,138 units
UK: 12,349 units
Norway: 5,697 units
All topped by Russia with its 80,000 sales. In this vast Russian market, MMC and its local partner played a pioneering role making Mitsubishi Motors one of the earliest Western players (August 1991) – a most successful venture whose natural conclusion was for this market to be spun off from Mitsubishi Motors Europe in April 2007, to become a stand-alone region. Since 2009, Russia is served through a joint venture between, Mitsubishi Corporation, and Rolf Group, joined in 2012 by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation to form the new “MMC Rus”.
Over 40 years, MMC also added manufacturing first in Western Europe (incl. at its former NedCar plant, from 1995 to 2012) and later in Russia (through “PCMARus” a joint-venture with PSA Peugeot Citroën whose production started in April 2010). Design (from 1989 to 2009) and R&D (from 1989 onwards) were also added to MMC’s European palette of activities.
Whatever the intricacies of its presence over the years (see below timeline), Mitsubishi Motors has remained a non-mainstream player in the European market, crafting the image of a safe, efficient, reliable and different sort of Japanese brand, with a strong presence in the crossover (Outlander, ASX), SUV (Pajero) and pick-up truck (L200) sectors.
A positioning supported by advanced technology (from direct-injection petrol engines from 1995 to today’s Clean Diesel), from real-life electric vehicles (“i-MiEV” from 2010) to weight saving solutions (“Global Small” architecture from 2012), from integrated active drive (“Dynamic 4” from 1987) to highly sophisticated 4WD systems (“S-AWC” from 2008) staged from the outset through fantastic achievements in motor sports (12 Dakar wins with Pajero* and 5 WRC championships with Lancer Evolution – 4 Driver’s and 1 Manufacturer’s), all with an essential European drive and flavour.
Today, with a return to profitability forecasted for FY13 and a “natural weight” of 100,000+ units per year over the 34 countries of its commercial territory (excl. Russia),today’s Mitsubishi Motors Europe looks forward to the next step of its development, as a coordinator of MMC’s activities in Europe.
The most challenging of all global markets, where the sharpest of customers, the tightest of all global regulations (e.g. safety & emissions) and some of the most talented competitors call for above average solutions – a reference market for all serious global players.
In this context MMC will continue to carve its non-mainstream presence in Europe, making the best use of its essential marker – the primacy of engineering – to showcase its abilities, with a clear focus on profitability and image over sheer volume; a positioning best represented by pioneering vehicles such as the soon-to-be-introduced Outlander PHEV plug-in electric hybrid crossover – and its later innovative siblings.
Mitsubishi European Milestones
1956: First Mitsubishi vehicles are sold in Europe (Spain) followed by Greece in 1962
1970: Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (MMC) is established further to an agreement between Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Co. and Chrysler Corporation
1974: MMC is allowed by Chrysler to sell in Europe under its own name:
August: first Distribution agreement (Belgium & Luxemburg), followed by The Netherlands and The United Kingdom
October: European public introduction @ Earls Court London Motor Show
1975: Start of sales in those three countries (Lancer and Galant)
1977: First Liaison Office (Rotterdam, The Netherlands):
First Rally victory in Europe (Lancer – class win @ 1000 Lakes Rally)
1982: End of distribution agreement with Chrysler International S.A.
1985: Liaison office moves to Frankfurt (Germany)
1989: European R&D Centre opens near Frankfurt (Germany)
1991: Start of operations in Russia
1993: European Sales & Marketing HQ (“MMSE”) opens near Amsterdam (The Netherlands)
1995: Introduction of Carisma, MMC’s first European specific product (platform shared with Volvo – manufactured at NedCar)
2001: Mitsubishi Motors acquires 100% of NedCar
2004: Introduction of Europe-only Colt (platform shared with DaimlerChrysler – manufactured at NedCar)
Colt is awarded with “Das Goldene Lenkrad” (Golden Steering Wheel) by the German Sunday newspaper “Bild am Sonntag,” published by Axel Springer AG
2005: First collaborative partnership with PSA Peugeot Citroën (2nd generation Outlander-based Peugeot 4007 and Citroën C-Crosser)
2007: Russia becomes a stand-alone region, split from Mitsubishi Motors Europe
2009: Mitsubishi Motors Europe’s restructuring
2010: Start of production at Kaluga plant in Russia (“PCMA Rus” a 70% PSA – 30% MMC joint venture) 
European market introduction of i-MiEV, 100% electric urban runabout
2012: NedCar sold to VDL Groep B.V. for symbolic € 1,00 (with guarantee for preservation of employment)
MMC takes 9% of its Russian Distributor (later renamed “”MMC Rus” in May 2013)
2013: First European market introduction of Outlander PHEV, plug-in hybrid electric crossover
Mitsubishi Motors Europe moves to a new HQ building near Maastricht
2014: Return to profit in Europe forecasted (FY13).