Mitsubishi Motors is creating a German-based motorsport headquarters from which it will co-ordinate an integrated ‘business of sport’ approach to global competition, marketing and product development.

Pivotal to the nerve centre, due to become operational at Trebur, near Frankfurt, next year, are exclusive, high-performance model derivatives which will permeate the brand’s range, starting in early 2004.

Unveiling the motorsport and performance car initiative in Barcelona, Ulrich Walker, Mitsubishi Motors’ Corporation’s executive vice president responsible for car operations, said: “We are kick-starting a new era with a determination to prove that Mitsubishi is in the business of motorsport.”

He emphasised that a world-beating sporting legacy stretching back four decades – which was something of a: “well kept secret” – would be harnessed and carried forward as: “a unique tool, a global motorsport system generating efficiency, brand consistency and motorsport magic for customers, competitors and the our company alike.”

Despite sustained success on the world stage in rallying and cross-country endurance events, which elevated the Lancer Evo and Shogun (Pajero) to motorsport icon status, Walker admitted: “Too few people know about it. It was an engineering-driven philosophy which appeared to involve competing for the sake of it. Those days are gone.”

Walker cited the most recent example of Mitsubishi’s success, a debut victory on the gruelling United Arab Emirates desert challenge for the rally-raid Pajero Evolution, based on the Pajero Evo 2+2 concept car.

Heading the European MMSP motorsport operation will be Sven Quandt, son of BMW‘s founder Herbert Quandt, an experienced automotive industry executive and motorsport competitor.

Quandt, who has successfully campaigned rally raid Pajeros, described his challenging role as: “Making motorsport an integral part of Mitsubishi’s global business. It will cover our corporate landscape including product development, marketing and public relations, accessories, parts, merchandising and services to customers and motorsport competitors.”

He added: “These are radical plans which have full support at the highest level within the company. We must maintain a link between the cars we rally and the cars we sell. We will not forget those who love to see a little bit of motorsport magic incorporated into road cars.”

Quandt said the advanced guard of “rather exclusive” HPVs (high performance vehicles) will arrive in 2004, carrying a full warranty and available through Mitsubishi’s UK and European dealer network.

Senior European executives believe the new generation of HPVs, built at local factories including Born in Holland where the new Colt will be made, will combat grey imports of Japanese performance models.

Quandt said: “These will help us fight grey imports, and the problems they have generated, as people looked for the latest fast toy out of Japan. They will complement rather than replace the Evo hero cars.”

Endorsing the holistic approach to motorsport and performance derivatives, Stefan Jacoby, president and chief executive of Mitsubishi Motor Sales Europe, said: “Defining an all-new product line-up is our highest priority. These products are the most important part of our future in Europe.”

HPVs, he said: “would incorporate spirited design, clever engineering and dynamic performance, plus Japanese quality heritage. Cars with soul and heart to make our customers smile. Cars which will inspire.”

Jacoby argued that the HPV range, whose branding has still to be decided, will include MPVs and even the L200 pick-up. Mitsubishi’s president in Europe said a 200-horsepower Colt had not been ruled out, but would embody characteristic HPV driving dynamics, safety and reliability.

He promised: “a nice surprise for enthusiasts and motorsport fans ” within the next nine months.

Separately, the UK Mitsubishi importer on Monday promised the next generation Lancer Evo would arrive nine months ahead of versions sold in Europe and would cost at least £2,000 less than in its predecessor, in a clear attempt to foil the country’s independent “grey” importers.

The multi-discipline, MMSP approach the operation plans to nurture among competitors in rally raids and rallying is particularly seeking an upturn in the performance of the UK Rugby-based World Rally Championship programme.

Executive vice president Walker explained: “We have a clear strategy which requires mid-term success. We have already had tri-partite talks in Japan with the Rugby team and Japanese engineers to discuss improving systems and streamlining lines of communication.”

Quandt said the re-organisation offered the Ralliart Europe organisation run by chairman Andrew Cowan, who has overseen four world drivers’ title wins and one manufacturers’ championship, “a great chance.”

Fostering closer links with rallying clubmen and international competitors is a core element in the wider MMSP role with the possibility of the Rugby Ralliart organisation selling WRC and Group N production-related rally cars to customers.

The new European initiative extends to developing “good, eager and motivated” young driving talent, a scheme pre-empted by the Mitsubishi in the UK’s decision to run a Group N Lancer Evolution in next year’s British Rally Championship.
Lancer Evos dominated the recent Network Q Rally of Great Britain’s Group N category by taking the seven top places in the near showroom speficiation class.

European president Jacoby summed up the MMSP philosophy as “central to building a strong and credible brand in Europe” and reflected, according to MMC vice president Walker, the re-discovery and application of: “unused potential and abilities – like forgotten diamonds” within the company.