IN 1917, Japan was one of the world’s young rising powers. Having emerged from a long self-imposed isolation from the rest of the world barely 50 years earlier, the nation had shocked the great powers with its stunning defeat of Imperial Russia in the brief war of 1905, and was growing in strength and capability.
In that year, that much of the rest of the world was tearing itself to pieces in what would later be known as World War I, one of Japan’s new industrial stalwarts, the Mitsubishi zaibatsu, built the first production car in Asia, the Model A. Twenty-two of the cars, which vaguely resembled the Ford Model T, were manufactured by the Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Co., marking the beginning of what is now the world’s 25th largest automaker (by sales).
On Thursday, Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Corporation (MMPC) opened the Mitsubishi 100 Years’ Anniversary Expo to celebrate “100 years of automobile innovation,” giving the public one of the Japanese giant’s most important markets a glimpse of the rich history of the company.
It started slowly, but innovation was at the heart of just about everything Mitsubishi ever did, particularly in the early days. Mitsubishi’s next significant vehicle was the PX 33 of the mid-1930s, which was essentially a civilian version of a military transport, and the first all-wheel drive (or 4-wheel drive) passenger car produced in Asia.
A PX 33 was among the museum pieces on display at the expo, its hulking form an interesting counterpoint to the sleek, modern cars and trucks on display. Visitors to the expo were treated to an up-close look at a number of vehicles flown in for the occasion from the Mitsubishi Auto Gallery in Okazaki, Japan. Among the notable auto icons were the Colt F2000 race car, a winner of the JAF Grand Prix; the 1985 Paris-Dakar Rally winner – back in the days when the rally actually went from Paris to Dakar – the No. 189 Pajero; the impressive Lancer that ran the 2005 World Rally Championship series; and the 2015 Baja Rally winning Outlander PHEV.
Outside the main hall, other examples of Mitsubishi’s long history – show cars owned by customers, and a fascinating collection of some of Mitsubishi’s notable engine creations – were on display as well.
Other features for visitors during the four-day event included test drives of Mitsubishi’s best-selling vehicles, and an opportunity to test them head-to-head against their competitors. A “family park” sponsored by Nickelodeon inside the hall provided entertainment for the kids, while a number of well-known Filipino musical acts provided entertainment for everyone.
That Mitsubishi would go to some effort to put on a centennial celebration for the Filipino public was not a coincidence, as company officials stressed in their remarks to the media at the opening of the expo on Thursday.
The expo, MMPC First Vice President for Vehicle Sales and Marketing Froilan Dytianquin said, “Evokes Mitsubishi’s commitment to deliver vehicles that are truly world-class.”
Executive Vice President Shigeru Ogura pointed out that the Asean region is a “significant” market for Mitsubishi, and the Philippines a very important part of it.
“The Philippines has a large population, there is high demand here, and we are number two in market share,” Ogura said. “This is an important market for Mitsubishi, and we are committed to not just providing world-class vehicles, but service to match.”
Mitsubishi has already demonstrated its commitment to the Philippines with a massive investment in long-term manufacturing here; along with chief rival Toyota, it is one of the participants in the government’s Comprehensive Automotive Resurgence Strategy (CARS) program, which will see it produce at least 200,000 of the popular Mirage G4 compact sedan over a six-year period in its factory in Laguna.
And in a gesture to further demonstrate its care for its host country, MMPC took the opportunity presented by the expo to hand over a check for P1 million to the GMA Kapuso Foundation, which will be used for the construction of a badly-needed bridge connecting a village to a school in Buhi, Camarines Sur.
The next century
If Mitsubishi has any misgivings about what the future holds, it certainly didn’t let them show; MMPC is bullish on its business prospects for this year, forecasting sales of 75,000 units in the Philippines in 2017, which would be an increase of more than 20 percent over its 2016 performance.
In terms of technology, MMPC President and Chief Executive Officer Yoshiaki Kato said that Mitsubishi was firmly committed to a green future, applying a great deal of resources to higher efficiency vehicles, hybrids and alternative power. Two examples of that were even made available for visitors to test drive, the pure electric iMiEV, and the non-race version of the Outlander Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle (PHEV).