Can Mitsubishi follow Hyundai with its new warranty program?

Could this be the beginning of the Mitsubishi renaissance? The budget automaker expanded on its generous warranty with two years or 30,000 miles worth of scheduled maintenance for all 2024 models, based on an announcement earlier this month. That puts it on par with the industry-leading warranty from Hyundai, who 25 years ago, course corrected its reputation for budget cars of questionable quality and currently tops the charts in owner satisfaction surveys. 

Hyundai’s turnaround could be attributed to the 1999 model year, when it revolutionized the industry with a 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. It’s added more assurances since then, including an anti-perforation warranty for seven years that protects against rust or corrosion, 24-hour roadside assistance for five years, and most recently, three years or 36,000 miles of complimentary scheduled maintenance.  

“Hyundai wasn’t the greatest at the time but in the past 15 years, the reputation has grown dramatically,” said Chris Sutton, V.P. of auto retail at J.D. Power. “Has that template been successful? If the quality backs up the promise, absolutely. You have to start with confidence in your own brand. It’s a good story for (Mitsubishi) to tell.” 

That story for Mitsubishi started in 2004, when most of its cars came with a 5-year/60,000-mile basic and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. In 2018, Mitsubishi made it standard on every car and added five years of complimentary roadside assistance. The new car warranty is also transferrable to a second owner, though the powertrain warranty gets cut in half when sold to a second owner. This year, every Mitsubishi’s 2-year/30,000-mile maintenance package covers three oil and filter changes, three tire rotations, and a cabin air filter replacement.

It’s a proof point to customers that Mitsubishi is in it for the long haul. 

“We want our customers to know that we stand behind their vehicle’s quality, and a long warranty is proof of just that,” said Jeremy Barnes, senior director of communications and events at Mitsubishi.

“They’re signaling their confident in the quality of the vehicle short term but also a longer period of time (10-year/100k powertrain),” Sutton said. “Then the customer can accordingly be confident because the manufacturer is standing behind it. 

It’s something dealers get behind as well. For the first time in the brand’s 43-year history in the U.S., it topped the J.D. Power U.S. Customer Service Index (CSI) that measures satisfaction with dealer service on new vehicles up to three years old.  

“We’re incredibly proud to have won the J.D. Power CSI award, as this result is a direct response from our customers to the quality of service and experience they receive from Mitsubishi Motors dealer partners,” Barnes said. “It’s in everyone’s best interests—ours, our dealer partners, and, ultimately, our customers’—to ensure that the experience is an exceptional one, from the time they make their appointment, through the service process, and up to the point they collect their car and drive away.”

The maintenance program and warranties also signal an investment in the brand’s future as it transitions to electrification. The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance will pump $1.5 billion into future technologies and an “enhanced and electrified product lineup” coming in the next three years, according to Mitsubishi’s mid-term plan. Mitsubishi aims to have 50% of sales from electric vehicles by 2030, which may run counter to the brand’s current budget offerings. 

At $17,340, including a $1,095 destination fee, the 2023 Mitsubishi Mirage hatchback remains the most affordable new car on the market alongside the Nissan Versa. Its pokey 78-hp 1.2-liter 3-cylinder paired with a CVT helps it earn an exceptional 39 mpg combined. Pair that with the warranty, and it has one of, if not the lowest, cost of ownership of any new vehicle. It’s a rough ride and the most basic of cars, but it serves its budget mission well. 

“The retailers provide the customer with a known factor in maintenance expense and coverage, and a convenient and predictable ownership experience that the manufacturer is standing behind,” Sutton said. 

2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

On the other end of the spectrum of its small product lineup, the Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid best represents the brand’s potential. Trimmed with premium materials and amenities such as semi-aniline leather, Bose audio, a head-up display, and a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, the top 40th Anniversary Edition model offers a cramped third row and, for 2023, a larger 20-kwh battery pack that enables an electric range of 38 miles. Larger motors front and rear team with a 2.4-liter inline-4 to make 248 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. It’s an impressive vehicle, and upholds Mitsubishi’s value proposition with a price between $40,000 and $50,000. 

Our plan and our outlook is strong,” Barnes said about the future, citing positive coverage from Automotive News as well as strong J.D. Power survey results.

A strong warranty may give customers and dealers confidence, but it forces a brand to emphasize quality. The formula worked in Hyundai’s case, helping it become the sixth largest automaker by sales in the U.S. in the first half of 2023.

Since 2015, Hyundai has consistently ranked near the top in the J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey (IQS) that assesses problems reported by owners in the first three months of ownership. From 2015-2019, it ranked in or near the top three, along with Genesis and Kia, for fewest problems reported with as few as 71 complaints per 100 vehicles in 2019. In the same time Mitsubishi was near the bottom of the rankings with 121. The industry average was 93.

Since then, new car tech has contributed to a spike in complaints, with the industry average jumping to 180 last year and 192 this year. Mitsubishi has narrowed that gap, coming in near or better than the industry average. In 2023, Hyundai had 188 reported complaints versus 193 for Mitsubishi.

It helps that Mitsubishi has only four main models, and it hasn’t rolled out new electric vehicles on new platforms with new technology that frequently contribute to reported problems and consumer confusion. 

The latest addition to Mitsubishi’s warranty ties customers to dealers in the small family of satisfaction, based at least on the CSI, and that’s something they can bank on moving forward. 

The reason the study and measure has resonance, is in those first three years that’s what sets the loyalty (to the brand) after expiration of warranty,” Sutton explained. “It can be indicative of how the dealer service center experience is going to be like post-warranty.”

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