MITSUBISHI is rushing to get a sub-ASX sized small SUV to market to cash in on the segment’s enormous growth.
And with any luck, it will look at least slightly like the EX Concept the company unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show.
The edgy, futuristic and chin-jutting styling of the EX will also flow into another medium SUV, which will sit just above the current ASX’s dimensions and below the Outlander, according to Mitsubishi’s head of product planning, James Tol.
“If you look at the EX, this is where the car is heading and we’d anticipate this sub-ASX car to come through in fiscal year 2017, with another all-new SUV a bit larger than ASX, to give us a five-SUV strategy, with the Outlander, Pajero Sport and Pajero above that,” he said at the show.
Tol said the small-SUV market, which has grown from nowhere to around 80,000 cars a year in the space of five years, is making it hard to sell upper-level small cars because people realise that for the same money they can buy something more high-riding and rugged-looking.
The EX Concept, which Mitsubishi Motors COO Tetsura Aikawa describes as having “pulsating form and an energetic, high-density appearance” looks a bit like Shredder from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons.
Its less flairy lines will no doubt make production, but its suicide doors and bare, futuristic interior, with its augmented-reality windscreen, probably won’t.
The all-electric concept - which combines Mitsubishi’s two core strengths of SUVs and EVs - also points the way to at least having EV options at the bottom end of the SUV market in 2017, with new battery technology Aikawa claims has doubled in density, and thus doubled the range of current SUVs to a theoretical 400km.
So how far off are these vastly improved lithium-ion batteries, which several car companies were touting in Tokyo (VW claims a 500km-range EV is on the way).
“It’s all about improving energy density and this is the kind of battery technology that should emerge around 2019 and 2020. There’s a lot of work going on and a lot of companies today are talking about extending their range,” Tol explains.
“EVS are already changing things, but this will change the game again, because once you get up towards a 300-400km range, it’s much more useful.”
The EX Concept features plenty of other futuristic tech, like parking by smart phone and the ability to become a kind of generator on wheels.
“This car can be used to provide a power source for outdoor activities, or as an emergency power supply, and you’ll be able to connect it to your home for peak-load shifting - your car will become an energy-storing device,” Aikawa said.
EV power is also firming as the future for any potential replacement for the much-loved, and about to be deleted, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution sports sedan.
“At the moment we’re not talking about any future Evo plan, but the thing is with EV and PHEV technology, we’re starting to move towards the space where you’ll be able to get the kind of Evo-like performance using that kind of system, so we’re hopeful that in the future that’s a place we could go to,” says Tol.
As for the Lancer, there are similarly no firm plans to replace it, but nor are there any plans to kill it off, because it’s still selling well, at least in sedan form.
“It’s out-selling a lot of newer generation stuff, it’s just got an intrinsic appeal as a very sporty flavoured car,” Tol said.