Mitsubishi Motors: 100 Years of Automotive Brilliance!

Mitsubishi Motors is synonymous with innovation and reliability, boasting a rich history spanning over a century. The global automaker has rightfully earned its place among the big names in the automotive world thanks to its many significant contributions to the industry.

From its humble beginnings as a shipbuilding company to its current position as a leading manufacturer of SUVs and electric vehicles, Mitsubishi Motors has consistently pushed the boundaries of innovation and design.

However, it wasn’t a road full of roses for Mitsubishi, and it took a lot of hard work and effort for the brand to be where it is today. How did Mitsubishi stay ahead of the game and last for over a century? Let’s find out!

Mitsubishi Motors History: The Humble Beginning!

Mitsubishi Motors History

The early days of Mitsubishi Motors were characterised by a spirit of pioneering innovation and a dedication to quality. The roots of Mitsubishi Motors can be traced back to 1870 when Yataro Iwasaki founded a shipping and trading company. Over the next few decades, the company expanded into various industries, including heavy machinery and shipbuilding.

The company’s automotive journey began in 1917, when Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Co., Ltd. introduced Japan’s first mass-produced passenger car, the Mitsubishi Model A. This groundbreaking achievement marked the dawn of a new era for Mitsubishi, setting the stage for its remarkable transformation into a global automotive powerhouse.

The Mitsubishi Model A, a seven-seater sedan, was based on the Fiat Tipo 3 and assembled at the Kobe shipyard of Mitsubishi Shipbuilding. Despite its limited production run of only 22 vehicles, the Model A played a pivotal role in establishing Mitsubishi’s presence in the automotive industry.

The Model A’s design reflected the company’s commitment to quality and craftsmanship. Its sturdy construction and reliable performance quickly earned it a reputation among Japanese consumers. While the Model A’s production ceased in 1921, it laid the foundation for Mitsubishi’s future endeavours in the automotive realm.

A Time for Growth, Expansion & Iconic Models!

The post-World War I era was a time of challenges and opportunities for Mitsubishi. Despite the economic hardships of the time, the company continued to invest in its automotive division, recognising the industry’s potential growth.

In 1934, Mitsubishi Shipbuilding merged with Mitsubishi Aircraft, forming Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI). This merger laid the foundation for Mitsubishi’s future as a diversified industrial conglomerate.

Following World War II, Japan’s automotive industry experienced rapid growth. Mitsubishi Motors played a vital role in this resurgence, introducing a series of successful models that captured the attention of both domestic and international markets.

The Mitsubishi 500: A Symbol of Post-War Japanese Automotive Ingenuity

After the woes of World War II, the country of Japan‘s automotive industry had a clear plan moving forward, focusing on reconstruction and innovation. In this era of rebirth, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, a conglomerate with a rich history in manufacturing, stepped into the automotive arena with the introduction of the Mitsubishi 500 in 1960.

This compact, rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive car marked a significant milestone for Mitsubishi Motors, paving the way for its future success as a leading global automaker. Designed with practicality and affordability in mind, the Mitsubishi 500 was a testament to Japan’s burgeoning automotive capabilities. Its monocoque construction and lightweight and sturdy body structure were a testament to Mitsubishi’s engineering prowess.

Though modest in displacement, the car’s air-cooled, 493cc two-cylinder engine offered ample power for its intended purpose – providing reliable transportation for families and urban commuters. The Mitsubishi 500’s functional exterior design reflected its practical nature. Its boxy shape and flat front and rear maximised the car’s interior space while minimising production costs.

The car’s single wiper blade, a cost-conscious design decision, became a quirky signature element. Despite its simplicity, the Mitsubishi 500 exuded a certain charm reminiscent of a bygone era of automotive design. Inside, the Mitsubishi 500’s Spartan interior was focused on practicality.

The dashboard was straightforward, with a speedometer, fuel gauge, and essential controls. The seats, though basic, offered adequate comfort for short journeys. The car’s interior dimensions, while modest, managed to accommodate four passengers with relative comfort.

The Mitsubishi 500’s impact on the Japanese automotive landscape was profound. It was the first mass-produced passenger car to be manufactured by Mitsubishi after the war, and its success laid the foundation for the company’s future growth. The car’s affordability and practicality made it a popular choice among Japanese consumers, and its exports to select markets helped establish Mitsubishi’s presence on the global stage.

Beyond its commercial success, the Mitsubishi 500 embodied the spirit of Japanese history during the post-war period. It represented a nation’s determination to rebuild and innovate, and its simple yet effective design mirrored the resourcefulness and resilience of the Japanese people.

The Mitsubishi 500, though a product of its time, remains a cherished symbol of Japan’s remarkable automotive journey. Also, the triumph of the Mitsubishi 500 at the Macao Grand Prix further solidified Mitsubishi’s reputation as a manufacturer of high-performance vehicles.

The Mitsubishi Colt Galant GTO: A Japanese Muscle Car Icon

The Mitsubishi Colt Galant GTO, a nameplate that evokes a sense of power and performance, is a testament to Japan’s foray into the world of muscle cars. First introduced in 1970, the GTO was Mitsubishi’s answer to the American muscle cars dominating the market then. With its sleek design, powerful engine, and sporty handling, the GTO quickly gained a loyal following among enthusiasts.

The Colt Galant GTO was first introduced to the world at the 1969 Tokyo Motor Show, where Mitsubishi unveiled the Galant GTX-1 show car. This concept car showcased the company’s intention to enter the muscle car segment and was met with great enthusiasm. The production version of the GTO, based heavily on the GTX-1, debuted the following year.

The GTO was initially offered with a 1.6L, 105 horsepower engine. However, in 1971, Mitsubishi introduced a more powerful 2.0L engine with 125 horsepower. This upgrade significantly boosted the GTO’s performance, making it a competitor to American muscle cars.

Throughout its production run, the GTO underwent several revisions and updates. In 1973, Mitsubishi introduced the GTO GS-5, a high-performance variant with a revised suspension, wider tyres, and a restyled front end. The following year, the GTO received a facelift featuring a new grille and taillights.

In 1975, Mitsubishi added a turbocharged version of the GTO to the lineup, further enhancing its performance credentials. The GTO GS-R, powered by a 2.0L turbocharged engine, produced a staggering 165 horsepower, making it one of the most powerful Japanese cars of its time.

The GTO’s production ended in 1977, but its legacy lives on. The car remains a popular option among collectors and enthusiasts, and its iconic status is firmly established in Japanese automotive history.

The Mitsubishi Colt Galant GTO was a key player in developing Japanese muscle cars. It proved that Japanese automakers could produce just as powerful and stylish vehicles as their American counterparts. The GTO’s popularity helped to establish Mitsubishi as a significant force in the automotive world.

Today, the Mitsubishi Colt Galant GTO is considered a rare and desirable collector’s item. Its iconic status ensures that it will continue to be cherished by enthusiasts for many years.

The Mitsubishi Lancer: A Legacy of Rallying Excellence and Practical Performance

Mitsubishi Motors: A Century of Automotive Brilliance!
Mitsubishi Motors: A Century of Automotive Brilliance!

The Mitsubishi Lancer, synonymous with rallying prowess and dependable performance, has etched its mark on the automotive landscape for over five decades. From its humble beginnings as a compact sedan in 1973 to its evolution into a global rallying icon and a versatile family car, the Lancer has consistently demonstrated Mitsubishi’s commitment to innovation and engineering excellence.

The Lancer’s history spans over ten generations so far, each characterised by distinct design language, technological advancements, and performance enhancements.

The Lancer continued to evolve through subsequent generations, introducing new features, refined styling, and improved performance. The fifth generation (Cedia) marked a significant shift in design, adopting a more modern and sophisticated aesthetic.

The Mitsubishi Lancer has also left its mark on rallying races as well. From its early successes in the Southern Cross Rally to its domination of the World Rally Championship (WRC) in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Lancer has proven to be a formidable force on the world’s most challenging rally stages.

The Lancer Evolution, the high-performance variant of the Lancer, has been the cornerstone of Mitsubishi’s rallying success. With its turbocharged engine, all-wheel drive system, and meticulously tuned suspension, the Evolution has consistently delivered outstanding performance, earning a reputation as a true rally legend.

The Lancer’s WRC achievements are nothing short of remarkable. The car has secured four consecutive WRC driver’s championships between 1996 and 1999, with Tommi Mäkinen at the helm. The Lancer has also clinched five WRC manufacturer’s championships, demonstrating its dominance in rallying.

Beyond its rallying pedigree, the Mitsubishi Lancer has also gained recognition as a practical and versatile family car. Its spacious interior, comfortable ride, and range of fuel-efficient engines have made it popular among families seeking a dependable and affordable vehicle.

The Lancer’s sporty heritage has not gone unnoticed in its road-going variants. Even the non-Evolution models have retained a touch of the car’s performance DNA, offering a responsive driving experience and a hint of the excitement that has made the Evo so iconic.

The 1980s & 1990s: Conquering the SUVs’ Segment!

The 1980s and 1990s saw Mitsubishi Motors continue to innovate and expand its product lineup.

The Mitsubishi Pajero

Mitsubishi Motors: A Century of Automotive Brilliance!
Mitsubishi Motors: A Century of Automotive Brilliance!

The company introduced its first all-wheel-drive SUV, the Pajero, in 1982. The Mitsubishi Pajero, known as the Montero in North America, epitomises Mitsubishi’s SUV heritage. The Pajero quickly established itself as a formidable off-roader thanks to its durable construction, advanced Super Select 4WD system, and impressive ground clearance.

The Mitsubishi Outlander

Mitsubishi Motors: A Century of Automotive Brilliance!
Mitsubishi Motors: A Century of Automotive Brilliance!

The Mitsubishi Outlander, introduced in 2001, has become Mitsubishi’s flagship SUV. The Outlander has evolved over the years, offering a combination of spaciousness, comfort, and capability that appeals to a wide range of buyers.

The Outlander’s spacious interior and flexible seating arrangements make it a practical choice for families. Its available all-wheel drive system provides added traction and confidence in slippery conditions, while its various powertrain options, including a plug-in hybrid variant, cater to diverse needs.

The Eclipse Cross

The Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, introduced in 2017, brought a fresh and stylish design to Mitsubishi’s SUV lineup. The Eclipse Cross combines sleek lines with a modern interior, offering a compelling choice for urban adventurers.

The Eclipse Cross is packed with technology, including a standard rearview camera, an available multi-view camera system, and advanced driver-assistance features. Its available Super All-Wheel Control system provides enhanced handling and stability in various driving conditions.


The Mitsubishi RVR, also known as the ASX in some markets, is a compact SUV that offers a blend of practicality and style. Introduced in 2010, the RVR has become famous for city dwellers and young buyers.

The RVR’s compact size makes it easy to manoeuvre in urban environments, while its spacious interior and cargo space provide ample room for everyday needs. Its fuel-efficient powertrains and advanced safety features further enhance its appeal.

The 2000s: Bumps on the Road!

The early 2000s presented Mitsubishi Motors with challenges, including a recall crisis and financial difficulties. However, the company demonstrated resilience, implementing restructuring measures and focusing on its core strengths in SUVs and electric vehicles.

Amidst these challenges, Mitsubishi Motors recognised the growing demand for fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly vehicles. The company focused on developing innovative powertrains, including its plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) technology. In 2013, Mitsubishi Motors introduced the Outlander PHEV, the world’s first PHEV SUV, marking a significant step forward in its electrification strategy.

While the North American and European markets faced economic downturns, Mitsubishi Motors identified opportunities in Southeast Asia and other emerging markets. The company expanded its presence in these regions, tailoring its product lineup to meet the specific needs of local consumers.

Embracing New Technologies and Strategic Partnerships

Mitsubishi Motors Technologies

Mitsubishi Motors has embraced new technologies such as autonomous driving and artificial intelligence, recognising their potential to transform the automotive industry. The company has partnered with various technology companies, including NVIDIA, to develop self-driving systems and enhance its vehicles’ connectivity capabilities.

In 2022, Mitsubishi Motors unveiled the e-concept, a fully electric SUV concept showcasing the company’s commitment to electrification. The e-concept embodies Mitsubishi Motors’ design philosophy of ‘Robust & Refined,’ combining ruggedness with elegance.

Navigating the Challenges of the Pandemic and the Future!

The COVID-19 pandemic posed a significant challenge to the global automotive industry, disrupting supply chains and causing production slowdowns. Mitsubishi Motors has faced these challenges with agility, adapting its operations to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

The global semiconductor chip shortage, a critical component in modern vehicles, has also affected the company. Mitsubishi Motors has implemented strategies to secure chip supplies and minimise disruptions to its production processes.

Despite the challenges faced in recent years, Mitsubishi Motors remains committed to its core values of innovation, reliability, and customer satisfaction. The company is focused on developing sustainable vehicles, enhancing connectivity features, and advancing autonomous driving technologies.

The Vision Circular SUV concept, unveiled in 2023, demonstrates Mitsubishi Motors’ commitment to sustainability. The idea features recycled materials, a flexible battery layout, and a modular design, showcasing the company’s efforts to reduce its environmental impact.

As Mitsubishi Motors embarks on the next chapter of its journey, it is poised to navigate the evolving automotive landscape with resilience and innovation. The company’s focus on sustainability, connectivity, and autonomous driving will shape its future success, ensuring its continued position as a leading automaker in the global market.

It takes a lot to last for a century in the automotive market, but Mitsubishi managed to do so successfully, becoming a force to be reckoned with in the industry! Mitsubishi Motors is committed to providing its customers with environmentally friendly and technologically advanced vehicles. It continues to invest in research and development, exploring new technologies such as autonomous driving and artificial intelligence.

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