Mitsubishi Motors Was Once a Very Innovative Automaker, and Could Be Again
Mitsubishi Motors may be known as an automaker for mostly SUVs, but there have been times when the automaker surprised consumers and the auto industry. Currently, a little behind on the development of battery-electric vehicles (BEV), we’re hoping the new Ampere BEV facility can help get Mitsubishi back on track, but they weren’t always slow to the races. Working with the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, the Japanese automaker has come back from the brink of bankruptcy to a much more successive brand in recent years, especially with its Outlander and Outlander PHEV models. While we wait on the automaker to wow the auto market, here are the highlights of when Mitsubishi Motors changed the auto industry.
Yes, Mitsubishi has been a little out of touch with BEVs and electrifying their models in the past several years. The automaker is holding onto the Outlander plug-in hybrid for dear life, but it’s not a surprise. After the fall of the iMiEV, the Outlander PHEV is the longest-lasting electrified model that Mitsubishi Motors produces. After decades of success in Japan, it finally came to the States, and has made quite the splash. At one point, the iMiEV was the height of their electric success, producing the first highway-capable electric vehicle on the market at the time. Neither of these would even be the first time Mitsubishi tried its hand at BEVs – in the 70’s, Mitsubishi Motors was also the first automaker to mass market an electric vehicle.
The powertrains found in Mitsubishi vehicles may seem a little tame, but it may be surprising that the automaker has changed the way powertrains are designed today. Some automotive enthusiasts may be familiar with the abbreviation “GDI”, or gasoline-direct injection. It’s a fuel delivery system that’s supposed to be faster and create a larger combustion cycle for a higher power output. In the mid-90s, a lot of automakers were experimenting with GDI, but Mitsubishi was the first one to figure it out, able to combine more efficient combustion with higher fuel economy. Soon, many other brands caught on and copied the automaker.
Another innovation by Mitsubishi was the silent shaft. In 1976, Mitsubishi introduced the Silent Shaft engine, a design that reduced the vibration of 4-cylinder engines. These days, many automakers have noise and vibration reduction technology, but back in the 70s, that was unheard of. Shortly after developing the silent shaft, Mitsubishi was quick to patent the idea. Eventually, big-name manufacturers today (Porsche) wanted in on the secret, and actually bought a license to use the same design in their models..
Today, many automakers have traction control as a standard feature, as well as stability systems to keep control in the driver’s hands. There was a time when the system wasn’t even heard of, but that changed in 1990. Mitsubishi Motors was the first automotive maker in the world to design a Traction Control System and changed the game for the auto industry forever. There is one other innovation to engineering we can think of.
It’s no secret that with the rise of BEVs, automakers are starting to do away with manual transmission. It’s just not necessary. To appease consumers who like the feeling of manual shifting, some automakers are looking into designs that can simulate manual transmission in electric vehicles with up to 14 ratios, but it’s nothing new for Mitsubishi. Again, in the late 70’s, Mitsubishi Motors was the first automaker to release an eight-speed manual with a 4×2 drivetrain, called the Super Shift transmission. Thanks to its innovative eight-speed gearbox featuring a unique two-speed high-low selector, not only did it offer eight forward speeds, the Super Shift transmission also offered two different speeds for going reverse.
Mitsubishi Motors may be dragging its feet, but every so often, it wowed the auto industry and consumers everywhere. Give it a few years, and we’re bound to see something unreal thanks to its partnership in the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance and the new Ampere facility. Want to keep up with everything new for Mitsubishi? Follow along with us on University Mitsubishi social media.