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Interview: Clive Messenger, Mitsubishi fleet operations, general manager

The UK pickup market may have dipped in 2019, but Mitsubishi has had its best year for truck sales since 2007, with a 9.5% increase in L200 registrations. As the L200 makes up more than 30% of Mitsubishi’s overall UK sales, its success is a major contributor to the health of the company.

There have been contributing factors to the 2019 sales figures, for the market and the manufacturer. Worries about Brexit and falling business confidence certainly had an effect on the market, while Mitsubishi made the swap from Series 5 trucks to the latest Series 6 generation L200 in the middle of the year. Indeed, the range didn’t totally transform from Series 5 to 6 until around November, when the entry-level 4Life models arrived in the UK, while an L200 Trojan completed the line-up in January this year.

Of the 10,000 L200 pickups that the firm registered in the UK in 2019, around 8,000 were still Series 5 models. Mitsubishi has already sold more than 2,000 of the newer truck though and the numbers are rising rapidly, which is good news for dealers.

“For pickup trucks it has been our best year in 12 years and the new product has given us a boost,” says Clive Messenger, Mitsubishi’s fleet operations general manager.

“Most of the dealer network really get pickups very well. A lot of our supply went to SMEs through our dealer network, or through the contract hire channel. They are going to be local customers to one of our dealers.”

Around 3,500 L200s were sold to national fleet operators, some of whom require their trucks to be tailor-made to suit individual operation. While dealers and the company’s import centre in Portbury Docks can accommodate the fitting of towing equipment, additional lighting, hardtops and other options to the L200, Mitsubishi’s Special Vehicle Operations centre is there to take on more complex conversion work. MSVO handles around 400 vehicles a year.

The new Barbarian X trim has proven popular

As with the market in general, Mitsubishi has seen a shift in the mix of its truck sales. While around 17% of L200 sales are the hard-working 4Life model, Series 6 saw the introduction of a new range-topping Barbarian X trim level and this already accounts for 35% of orders.

“Barbarian X introduced new levels of safety equipment, which seems to be something that the market wants,” said Messenger.

Indeed, the Barbarian X now bristles with safety technologies, including Blind Spot Warning with Lane Change Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Forward Collision Mitigation and an Ultrasonic Misacceleration Mitigation System.

This demand for increased specification has been echoed in the company’s other LCVs. The Shogun Sport Commercial is only offered in a range-topping trim level, while the Outlander PHEV Commercial, originally available in Reflex trim only, can now also be had in Reflex Plus specification. The Outlander in particular is proving an increasingly important model for Mitsubishi, appealing to a broad range of customers from the Environment Agency and Highways England to local veterinary practices.

“Dealers are selling it to SMEs and we’re selling to big companies. It’s got the green credentials of electric drive with good access to the load area and it’s a 4×4. This is a great commercial vehicle, the challenge is getting more people to know about it,” said Messenger.

Mitsubishi sold around 200 PHEV Commercials in 2019, which is less than 5% of the firm’s overall Outlander PHEV registrations. However, it went from selling five per month in January to 25 a month by December.

“The electrification of all vehicles is coming soon and I think we will do more. We’d be disappointed not to see 400 by the end of this year,” said Messenger.

This confident outlook is reflected in his predictions for 2020: “The factory thinks the market will contract slightly in 2020, but we’re being slightly more optimistic. We are looking for a similar performance. There is a lot more confidence out there now and people that have put off buying, will be doing so now.”

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Written by Dan Gilkes

Dan has been a commercial vehicle and construction equipment journalist for almost 30 years. An automotive engineer and former fleet manager, he has driven almost every van, pickup and truck that has been launched in Europe over that time. As editor of VFW, his aim is to keep readers up to date with the latest developments in the light commercial world.

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