Mitsubishi will retain a presence in selected European markets with its own versions of two models from Alliance partner Groupe Renault, beginning in 2023.
The announcement follows months of uncertainty surrounding the Japanese brand's position in the European market, after it announced last year it would halt new European model introductions. The new models will be sold in left-hand-drive guise only, and not offered in the UK.
Mitsubishi's two Renault-based cars are described as "sister" models, and as such will use the same platforms and powertrains as their French counterparts, but with some "differentiations" to help tell them apart. It has not been confirmed which models Mitsubishi will sell, but the company will continue to offer the Eclipse Cross SUV in the market, so the same-sized Renault Kadjar seems an unlikely candidate.
Mitsubishi CEO Takao Kato welcomed the move: "Mitsubishi Motors has been implementing structural reforms in Europe and our decision to freeze new car development for the European Market, announced in July 2020 in our mid-term business plans, remains.
"However, the OEM supply agreement will provide us with a solution to offer new products developed and manufactured in Europe– alongside our ongoing after sales business."
Last July, Mitsubishi halted the introduction of new models to Europe as part of a shift in focus to the more lucrative Asian market. Under its new Small but Beautiful operating strategy, the Japanese brand planned to reduce fixed costs by 20% over two years and "improve operating profit by downsizing low-profit businesses".
The latest announcement follows a recent report from the Financial Times that said Mitsubishi could sell models built in Renault factories in France, citing internal sources at the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance with "direct knowledge of the matter".
A preliminary agreement was said to have been reached by the three companies on 22 February, before a final decision was made at a Mitsubishi board meeting on Thursday 25 February. Alliance discussions on the matter were described by the FT as "fractious".
It's said that bosses at Mitsubishi (34% owned by Nissan, in which Renault holds a 43% stake) didn't want French politics to influence the strategy of the Alliance and could now face accusations of bowing to pressure from the French government (which owns 15% of Renault) to preserve jobs.
With regard to a possible re-entry into the UK market, a Mitsubishi spokesman said on twitter: "We won't comment on this but I can tell you that Mitsubishi's plans to transition to an aftersales-only business before the end of the year have not changed," suggesting that the brand's decision to leave the UK is irreversible.
A market reintroduction of new Mitsubishi models raises the possibility that the all-new Outlander SUV could go on sale in Europe, given it shares its CMF underpinnings with several core Renault models built in France.
The plug-in hybrid version of the outgoing Outlander is still among Europe's most popular PHEV models, and the latest version could help Mitsubishi recapture ground lost to newer PHEV rivals.