Mitsubishi is on the verge of reversing its decision to exit Europe amid mounting pressure from its Renault and Nissan partners, according to the Financial Times.
Last July, Mitsubishi halted the introduction of new models to Europe as part of a shift in focus to the more lucrative Asian market. Under its new Small but Beautiful operating strategy, the Japanese brand planned to reduce fixed costs by 20% over two years and "improve operating profit by downsizing low-profit businesses".
Now, the FT reports, Mitsubishi could shift production of some European-market models to Renault factories in France, citing internal sources at the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance with "direct knowledge of the matter".
A preliminary agreement is said to have been reached by the three companies yesterday (22 February), with a final decision due to be made at a Mitsubishi board meeting on Thursday 25 February. The deal "may still fall apart" according to the newspaper's sources, with Alliance discussions on the matter described as "fractious".
It's said that bosses at Mitsubishi (34% owned by Nissan, in which Renault holds a 43% stake) don't want French politics to influence the strategy of the Alliance and could now face accusations of bowing to pressure from the French government (which owns 15% of Renault) to preserve jobs.
A Mitsubishi spokesman told Autocar the brand has no comment to offer on the speculation, but another representative later said on twitter: "We won't comment on this but I can tell you that Mitsubishi's plans to transition to an aftersales-only business before the end of the year have not changed," suggesting that while a European re-start remains possible, the UK is likely off the table.
A UK relaunch by Mitsubishi would serve as a lifeline for its UK retail network, the Colt Car Company. Some dealerships have already begun preparing to transition to an aftersales-only offering but could now be given the opportunity to order more stock from the firm, while others - the FT says - have sold their premises.
A market reintroduction of new Mitsubishi models raises the possibility that the all-new Outlander SUV - revealed last week - could go on sale in Europe. The plug-in hybrid version of the outgoing Outlander is still among Europe's most popular PHEV models, and the latest version could help Mitsubishi recapture ground lost to newer PHEV rivals.