In a move that many in the industry saw coming, Mitsubishi has revealed that it will begin winding down production of the Lancer Evolution sport sedan as part of a broader move to shift the company’s focus from being a performance oriented brand, to a seller of eco friendly vehicles in a bid to improve the company’s slumping sales.
According to the folks at Nikkan Jidosha Shimbun (Automotive News Daily), Mitsubishi will cease official production of the 10th and latest iteration of the car ( the Lancer Evolution X) by the end of the year. Overall sales numbers for the potent four door since its 1992 debut totaled to about 92,000 units in domestic sales on its home turf, as well as an additional 154,000 in world wide sales. The car was first gestated when engineers from the firms rally program incorporated the Galant VR-4’s all-wheel drive system and 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder into the tiny 4th generation Lancer (known here in the U.S. as the Mirage). The end result of this mad scientist esque effort was a four door sedan that not only offered buyers world class performance that could be measured on par with the world’s best sports cars, but also a cheap entry price with the Evo costing thousands less which opened the car to a broader range of consumers.
This potent combo allowed the car to become a smash hit with young buyers, and even spurred rival company Subaru to create the Impreza WRX and WRX STI performance sedans which would provide the spark for a sort of arms race between the two that would last for over 10 years with one side trying to outdo the other. While it initially began in the Asian and European markets, the heated rivalry eventually landed here in the U.S in 2003 and 2004 with the respective introductions of the eighth generation Evolution and the second generation WRX STI. Ironically Mitsubishi never intended to import the car, and had originally intended it to be a Japan exclusive model. However news of the Evolution’s achievements in rally racing (as well as its impressive performance numbers) slowly trickled beyond Japan and helped foster a popular “grey market” for the car in Britain and Australia during the mid 90’s. With today’s announcement, this hotly contested duel of all-wheel drive ideologies has ended and the WRX STI will emerge as the winner when production ceases later this year.
Prior to this announcement, the company once acknowledged the Evolution as a key image leader in its lineup, but this was back when the company’s marketing plans had performance as a key asset and buying point for consumers. Since then poor sales, as well as a decline in overall relevance have forced the company to abandon this approach, and instead embrace the development of electric and hybrid vehicles. A recent example of this new mantra is the new i-MiEV electric car which aims to help the firm achieve this new goal and will arrive here in the U.S. later this spring. The Mirage subcompact is also another notable example offering commendable fuel economy in a package that is small and reasonably priced.
While today’s announcement may disappoint hardcore fans of the model, these same loyalists should not be discouraged and hope that perhaps Mitsubishi will listen to their feedback and possibly resurrect the iconic nameplate. It would be similar to the way that the Dodge Viper was brought back to life (as an SRT offering) after ending production in 2010. We here at Autoinfoquest will miss the Evo but not so much the model itself, but rather we’ll miss the passionate rivalry that the potent four door had with Subaru, as well as the way it brought legions of enthusiasts together during its time in production.