Paul Barker grabs a cuppa and a chat with one of fleet’s most influential figures – Rob Lindley, Managing Director, Mitsubishi UK
Rob Lindley joined Mitsubishi Motors UK as managing director earlier this year, following the departure of Lance Bradley after nine years at the helm, and an early task has been to bring to market the revised version of the UK’s best-selling plug-in hybrid, the Outlander PHEV
QHow important is the Outlander plug-in hybrid model to Mitsubishi and what are your plans for the revised one?
The Outlander is unique: it has the EV capability, it is an efficient vehicle, it has the four-wheel-drive capability that Mitsubishi is renowned for, and that gives it something that there is no other way for consumers to buy. So there is room for growth; in the first full year we sold around 10,000 vehicles, and we’re looking at coming close to that with the new model.
THE IMPORTANCE OF INCENTIVES
The Government plug-in car grant knocks £2500 off the price of an Outlander PHEV, and Lindley says it’s a vital feature for building ultra low-emissions vehicle sales. The Government has declared it will review the rates of grant in October, and a withdrawal is scheduled for before the end of 2020.
“I think it is important. From a consumer point of view, the fact that you are getting something from the Government has more value than in pure pound note terms,” he told Company Car Today. “We think it’s doing a good job in terms of educating the consumer and changing mindset, and it’s doing a good job in the marketplace in reducing overall CO2 levels; our average fleet CO2 is significantly lower than most competitors’ because of the mix of Outlander PHEV that is in there.”
“I suspect, honestly, as it drops off, it’ll be replaced by more punitive taxation at the other end of the market,” he continues. “So the reality is that from a consumer point of view, the value choice will still be there but it will come in other ways, it’ll be higher taxes on higher-emitting vehicles, rather than necessarily continuation of grants.”
QAlthough the PHEV sales are increasing, so is the number of competitors. Where do you see the sales growth coming from?
It’s a couple of factors. You’ve got a lot of SUV drivers driving diesel product today, and scratching their heads saying what should I buy next? Those customers in Japanese and German SUVs are now saying: ‘OK, if I’m not supposed to buy a diesel, what should I be buying?’. That’s where the Outlander plug-in hybrid gives them an option. That situation has been there for the past several years, but the weight of it continues in the consumer’s mindset, and if they want to have an SUV that’s a plug-in hybrid, fuel efficient and gives them somewhere in the level of diesel efficiency or better, the Outlander is the only choice.
And then you’ve got people that like hybrid vehicles and think they want more versatility in terms of the SUV capability, moving from a saloon into an SUV, and an Outlander fulfils that requirement as well. Generally speaking with plug-ins, there is less choice, particularly that apply for the grant. So we have that advantage.
QIs it frustrating that the new Outlander PHEV’s range improvements are, on paper, lost in the change in emissions testing regime to WLTP?
We’re bringing out a new-model-year 2019 PHEV that is a better car, it’s more efficient and it’ll have a longer range in practice than the existing model, but the data will say that it doesn’t. It’s just something that you’ve got to deal with.
People will do the real-world evaluation on the mileage that they do; every day they do the same journeys and they will see what happens. We’re quite lucky with the Outlander PHEV because it is still below 50g/km, which is so critical for this space, and because Mitsubishi Motor Corporation have done a really good job; even though there are a lot of improvements, they have been able to bring it in at carry-over pricing.
QWhere are Mitsubishi’s fleet opportunities, outside of plug-in hybrid and the L200 pick-up?
The core of our fleet business is absolutely L200 and Outlander PHEV. It’s been that way for a little while and it will continue that way for a little while.
Mitsubishi has ambitious plans. The company results showed significant global growth over the past couple of years. Under the leadership and being part of the alliance with Nissan Renault, you’ve got some ambitious global leaders coming into the company that are driving a lot of change and a lot of development. Their ambition is clear, they’re trying to grow the business. Mitsubishi’s global target is to grow to 1.3m vehicles this year, which is a significant goal as it was around 1.1m last year, in a global car industry that’s not growing that significantly. So there is a lot of focus on markets’ opportunities for growth. They recognise the importance of the fleet sector within the UK market, so in terms of future product and other initiatives, you can imagine that there is a lot of energy and effort going into other models that will help us to expand our presence in both retail and fleet sectors.
QTo what extent has your success with Outlander PHEV opened people’s eyes to the brand, given prior to the plug-in you were mainly selling L200 pick-ups?
[Mitsubishi chief operating officer] Trevor Mann talks about Mitsubishi as being a sleeping giant, he sees a massive amount of potential for the brand in the future.
What Outlander PHEV gave us is an entry into the company car segment, where Mitsubishi wasn’t considered a natural choice. It meant fleets started to consider us, in truth sometimes under pressure from their users at the beginning.
What we need to do is back that up with great service through our fleet team, which we do. We overperform in terms of levels of service we give to our fleet customers given the size of the business overall. And then to back that up with other products that allow us to expand our presence in company car fleets, and you’ll see that in the future.
QHow far off is this expansion where you become more than Outlander PHEV and L200 from a fleet perspective?
Within the next two years you’ll see evolution of the product range, which allows us to be more competitive in those segments. And within the next three-to-four years, more revolution in terms of additional products. But time will tell.
As a comparison, when I went to Mazda in 2001, Mazda did 17,000 vehicles in its first year of 2001 after the takeover from previous importer MCL. In its second year, 2002, it was 28,000, so very similar to where Mitsubishi was last year. By 2007, Mazda had grown to 50,000 vehicles in the UK car market with a strong range of product and presence in fleet sectors that it hadn’t been in before.
Mazda has dropped away from those figures now, but that aspiration of growing from just under 30,000 to somewhere in the region of 50,000 is what we’re driving for, that’s our ambition over the next five years. And it’s been done before. If you look at historical precedent, there are six or seven brands that have gone on a journey from sub-30,000 to 50,000 plus, and I was at one of them so I’ve got some thoughts on how we can do that. It has to come from substance and genuine thought about where you can grow your business, but Mitsubishi ought to be able to achieve those levels of growth.
QIs Mitsubishi’s image where you want it to be, as an SUV-orientated and fairly utilitarian brand?
Overall, it’s a brand and a badge that people are quite happy to have on the driveway. We’re not a luxury brand, for sure we are not classed as a premium brand, but we are a niche brand that is seen as not downmarket or cheap, a credible choice, and people are quite happy to have an Outlander alongside what you would class as more premium German vehicles on the driveway.
It does matter that they’re charged, and I take issue with people that say they are not, because our data says that on average these cars are charged six days out of seven.
Some plug-in hybrids with very low range have had criticism in that space, but I genuinely don’t think that applies to the Outlander.