The Pajero 4x4. Picture: SUPPLIED
The Pajero 4x4. Picture: SUPPLIED

It’s like fish without chips, Sonny without Cher, Rolls without Royce.  After 40 years, Japanese motor company Mitsubishi has stopped building the big Pajero 4x4. For generations of South Africans, the vehicle has been synonymous with the Mitsubishi brand.

The name remains, in the form of the small Pajero Sport, but the big, family-swallowing bundu-basher is no more – victim, says Mitsubishi Motors SA MD Thato Magasa, of the worldwide swing to more space-efficient vehicles.

In its place is a range of vehicles Mitsubishi says is more attuned to the demands of modern buyers. Besides the Sport, there are the ASX and Eclipse Cross SUVs, the bigger Outlander 4x4 and the seven-seater Xpander multipurpose vehicle. There’s also the Triton bakkie, another long-term Mitsubishi mainstay.

Courtesy of the global Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi alliance, the latest Outlander is based on the Nissan X-Trail.

Magasa became MD in March, replacing Pedro Pereira, who had been in charge since 2015. His rise comes during a time of fundamental change for Mitsubishi in SA. Like its competitors, it’s coming to terms with a market already in long-term decline before Covid struck, and changing consumer habits accelerated by the pandemic.

Fortunately, he’s well versed in Mitsubishi and its needs, including a spell as operations manager. Since joining Motus Group (formerly Imperial), the brand’s importer and distributor, in 2009, he has also held senior positions within the Daihatsu and Renault brands.

In 2020, Japan-based Mitsubishi Motors Corp identified Africa as a core development region in its medium-term business plan to 2022. Magasa hopes that by the end of that period, Mitsubishi SA will have greatly grown its SA presence.

From about 2,500 in 2019, sales plunged to 1,644 in Covid-hit 2020. He hopes to almost double that in 2021, to 3,000. With several new car models due in coming months, he says the goal is very achievable. “We consistently punch above our weight against the major brands,” he says.

GM Nic Campbell says: “Continued interest in our diverse range proves we are getting the mix right in terms of model derivatives and target markets.”

It will help if Mitsubishi can grow its dealer presence. From 41 presently in SA, Eswatini, Botswana and Namibia, Magasa hopes to grow the number to 50 by next year. New venues under consideration include Ballito in KwaZulu-Natal, Paarl in the Western Cape and Bethlehem in the Free State.

Existing dealerships across the region are undergoing a change in corporate identity and signage, involving new images, styles, colours and themes. Magasa also hopes to introduce a number of franchised Mitsubishi service centres.

These will allow the brand to compete better under new aftermarket guidelines which came into play on July 1, allowing owners of all brands to have their warrantied vehicles serviced and maintained at nonfranchised workshops. The Competition Commission guidelines are intended primarily to provide a market opening for black mechanics and technicians.

Magasa says: “We don’t see the guidelines as a danger to business, but we need to educate people on what they can and should do. Even after warranties and service plans expire, our customers tend to stay with our dealers. Trust is an important part of the contract. If we can give customers a good experience, they will come back. The guidelines make it more important than ever that we keep our part of the bargain.”

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