At the beginning of 2015, Nathan Berg assumed the title of Senior Manager for Long-Range Product Planning at Mitsubishi Motors North America (MMNA). In this newly created position, Berg is tasked with defining future product strategy and product planning for the U.S. market. Berg has been with MMNA for 11 years. Prior to joining the U.S. headquartered team in Cypress, CA, Berg worked as a vehicle development engineer at MMNA’s Ann Arbor, MI technical center. Berg recently sat down with Automotive Engineering for an interview during the 2016 Outlander media preview in San Francisco.
What is the product strategy in the U.S. for the next five years?
The product strategy for MMNA, like our parent company Mitsubishi Motors Corp., is to compete in the segments that are strong and growing. Right now, that is the utility vehicle segments. The SUV segments in the U.S. market are having tremendous growth, especially the crossover segments. What used to be a couple of crossover segments is now multiple segments with multiple sub-segments. Our MMNA portfolio competes in the compact utility segment with the refreshed 2016 Outlander and the Outlander Sport, which for 2016 will be based off the Lancer platform. We really don’t feel that we’re ‘missing’ a segment because we’re not looking to have product in every segment in the U.S. That’s not the kind of company we are right now with the resources that we have.
Did the third-generation 2014 Outlander miss the mark with customer expectations?
I don’t know if we missed the mark because buyers of the 2014/2015 Outlander are really happy with the vehicle. They love the third-row seat, the Super All Wheel Control, and other technologies. But MMNA wanted to make customers even happier with this refresh. The 2014 Outlander’s development direction was led by Japan with significant input from a couple of overseas markets. It was made to have the broadest appeal possible. The vehicle continues to sell well in Russia and in Europe. When the 2014 vehicle was in development, MMNA wasn’t one of the parent company’s biggest distributors, so our voice wasn’t as strong back then. But now, instead of having the Outlander being an appealing vehicle for many markets, we have worked to make the 2016 vehicle more inline with U.S. needs and wants.
Will the parent company in Japan continue to be the development lead for MMNA?
That type of approach is changing a little bit. Coming from the development engineering side before this position, I can attest to the fact that some of our previous vehicles really didn’t have a lot of U.S. input. Compared to other global auto companies, Mitsubishi is small. So we can’t necessarily develop a unique vehicle for the U.S., a unique vehicle for Japan, or a unique vehicle for every other major market. That’s why Mitsubishi essentially develops world vehicles. Because the U.S. is becoming a top distributor for Mitsubishi Motors Corp., we are getting a bigger voice in the development of vehicles. MMNA had the biggest voice for the 2016 Outlander’s development with product changes influenced by requests from dealers, customers, and the sales and engineering teams. Going forward, the U.S. will have a much bigger role in improving our current products by influencing the types of changes that will make customers happy and satisfied with our vehicles.
Is 2015 a turning point for MMNA?
It definitely is a watershed year. The 2016 Outlander is the most technologically advanced and most impressive vehicle we’ve made in a long time. Many of our other vehicles are going to get the same treatment soon. The U.S. will see the refreshed Outlander Sport in a few months, then the Outlander PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle). A refreshed Lancer and a refreshed Mirage are coming, and the Mirage sedan arrives in the U.S. next year. The 2016 Outlander is the first U.S. vehicle to get the Dynamic Shield design and styling. Refreshed vehicles also will see technical improvements. That approach is underscored by the Outlander’s 100-plus engineering changes.
What are MMNA’s plans for the connected vehicle?
We have seen competitors come out with connected technologies and new infotainment technologies a little early, and that caused them a little bit of heartburn because the implementation wasn’t necessarily ‘right’ the first time. We have intentionally hesitated on offering certain infotainment and connected technologies. But things are about to change with Apple's CarPlay and Android Auto. The rollout plan for Mitsubishi’s smartphone-linked display audio system will be this summer in Europe on the Montero SUV, and sometime after that it will be launched on a Mitsubishi vehicle in the U.S.
How does Mitsubishi use engineering to attract customers?
Our customers enjoy being different, and they enjoy their vehicles being a little different and that’s reflected in how we design and engineer our vehicles. Although we look at the strong players in each segment to see what they are doing and how they are doing things, we make a conscious effort to do things our way. We’re not Honda. We’re not Toyota. And we’re proud of that. Engineering technology is one of our pillars. We embrace technology, but we are not going to be all over the board with every ‘latest and greatest’ technology because that can mean hitting a lot of dead-ends. We choose technologies wisely in the areas that best serve us. For example, we will continue to offer the latest advanced safety technologies, like forward collision mitigation and lane departure warning.