Op-Ed: Mitsubishi is setting a dangerous precedent by repurposing performance nameplates like Evolution, Eclipse

During next month’s Tokyo Motor Show, Mitsubishi will introduce a vehicle that puts the EV in Evolution and the con in concept.

For the second time this year, the struggling Japanese automaker has announced a name that once belonging to a beloved performance car will be appropriated for an entirely new and ostensibly unathletic vehicle.

First, it was the Mitsubishi Eclipse, the peppy coupe turned compact crossover, and now it’s the Evolution. Once the high-performance variant of Mitsu’s Lancer sedan, the Evolution—or Evo, as it was commonly known—was the last bastion of the company’s sporty legacy before being discontinued in 2015; now, the name will adorn an all-electric SUV.

Op-Ed: Mitsubishi is setting a dangerous precedent by repurposing performance nameplates like Evolution, Eclipse

Mitsubishi discontinued the Lancer Evolution, or Evo as it was affectionately known, in 2015.

(Mitsubishi/Wieck)

Mitsubishi announced the imminent arrival of its e-Evolution Concept today, describing the vehicle as a “low-slung aerodynamic Coupe” that will make use of artificial intelligence and a battery-powered four-wheel drive system.

Under different circumstances, I would give credit to Mitsubishi for pursuing something new and forward-looking. With just two nameplates returning for the 2018 model year, the Outlander and Mirage, and plummeting sales numbers, the brand is in dire need of fresh blood.

However, attempting to piggyback on the successes of once-popular cars is a craven strategy that disrespects both its own legacy and the dedication of its loyal fan base. It would be akin to Volkswagen making a Beetle SUV or Cadillac slapping an Eldorado emblem on a crossover.

Op-Ed: Mitsubishi is setting a dangerous precedent by repurposing performance nameplates like Evolution, Eclipse

Mitsubishi debuted the Eclipse Cross at the Geneva Motor Show in March.

(Mitsubishi Motors)

This naming overlap is a blatant ploy to bring departed customers back into Mitsubishi’s fold, or, as it describes it: “returning to where it belongs to better embrace the future.” But the Evolution name does not belong on an electric crossover. To quote the great Dr. Henry Walton “Indiana” Jones Jr: “It belongs in a museum” where it can be kept in its proper performance-oriented context. Or, at the very least, Mitsubishi should keep it on ice until it has the funds for a proper reboot.

It’s not that toying with customers’ nostalgia is bad business. Quite the contrary, I think it will work quite well. Sure, some purists will get offended and defect but, at this point, many of them already have and the ones who haven’t aren’t buying enough cars to keep the lights on. Plus, many customers who drove Lancer Evos and Eclipses in their younger days have probably moved on to SUVs to better accommodate their families and/or aging bodies; I’m sure some of them would relish the chance to be reunited with an old flame, even if it’s in name only.

Op-Ed: Mitsubishi is setting a dangerous precedent by repurposing performance nameplates like Evolution, Eclipse

The Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross will go on sale in Europe first before making its way to the U.S. as a 2018 model.

(Mitsubishi)

But therein lays the problem. The more people who buy the e-Evolution and the Eclipse Cross, the less likely Mitsubishi is to bring those vehicles back in their original form. This may be good business in the short term but it discredits the philosophy that a well-preserved past can lead to a fortunate future.

For most Americans, cars are necessary tools for transportation. To industries and investors, they are big business. However, they are also a culture of their own, one that is inexorably sewn into the fabric of modern society. Successful automakers find ways to respect the consumer culture they’ve created while also being mindful of changing demands. Hopefully, as Mitsubishi moves through its current era of change, it can find a way to strike that balance.

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