The cars we loved.
If you’ve ever been to a high school reunion, undoubtedly you’ve encountered the dreaded most changed award. It’s when beautiful and interesting people end up boring or the other way around. It happens to automobiles too. We have become accustomed to watching cars grow in size and complexity. It happened to the Honda Accord and to some extent the Ford Taurus. While good for the Accord, it can take away that which made a car special in the first place if the change is too drastic. It’s only sad when cars go through such transformations only to end up as something less than what it was. What made them great in the past carries little weight in a world where memories are limited to yesterday’s sound bites and Consumer Reports rankings.
One contestant for the most changed award might be Mitsubishi’s Galant. The Galant is the compact turned mid-sized sedan that has anchored Mitsubishi’s family car segment in some form since 1969. For most of its developmental life it was an interesting car. First a homely but tidy looking rear wheel drive captive import for Chrysler, the Galant would evolve with front wheel drive and quirky angular styling by the 80’s. High performance variants like the all-wheel drive VR-4 made the Galant a technological tour de force that would later share it’s underpinnings with the Diamond Star coupes of the 90’s. With that illustrious history behind it, a visit to your local Mitsubishi showroom might prompt the question: What’s happened to the Galant? Before answering that question, it helps to frame its recent history to understand how hap hazard the product planners have been in defining the mission of an otherwise acceptable car.
Plenty of high performance versions of the Galant were available in Japan and Australia, while Americans made due with what was essentially a dress up package in the GTZ models. The divergence of Galant body styles and options had become complete by the seventh generation in 1992. An American version rolled out of the Diamond Star facility in Normal Illinois, while other factories in Taiwan and Australia turned out more exciting parallel developments. With a few exceptions, this would be the beginning of the end for interesting North American Galants.
As recently as 2007, you could opt for sporty versions of the Galant with powerful V6 engines, especially in the RallyArt trim. A 3.8L V6 in 2007 had 258hp and made the Galant a capable street light warrior. Called “suprising athlethic” by Car and Driver magazine, the 5 speed automatic equipped car could do 0 to 60 in 6.1 seconds. Not bad by mid-range sedan standards. By 2009 a sport model with a less powerful 230hp version of the 3.8 joined the Ralliart. From that point on performance options started going downhill rapidly as the model list was cut in half and regulated to four-cylinder engines.
A hoped for makeover in 2010 had become a mild facelift, making the Galant look more like an old Altima. Not that the Gallant was not attractive, it just had not capitalized on any of its advantages (price, standard equipment and performance) and had become the victim of corporate neglect. The smaller Lancer had become Mitsubishi’s best seller and seemed to get all the attention while the Galant made do with an ever shrinking model and options list. By 2011, the Galant was available in only two models with just four colors and one engine. What had been the base motivation in previous cars, a rather large 2.4L four cylinder produced 160hp. It wasn’t even a DOHC setup. The single overhead cam engine was good for an estimated 30mpg on the highway, a figure that has now been surpassed with a new crop of midsized cars including the Sonata and Fusion with considerably more power. It did nook nice however when equipped with the optional 18′ wheels.
To its credit, the Galant could be lushly appointed in such a way that brought it close to the level of kit in the departed Diamante luxury sedan. The inconsistent nature of the Galant’s option and model list has been the result of product planners who have seem to have been struggling with finding a niche in the crowded and competitive mid-sized sedan segment. After having given in to obscurity, the Galant might never capture the market share that the seventh (92-98) or eight (93-03) generation models did. Those cars were a popular and sporty alternative to the Camry and Accord. Now Mitsubishi seems content to just sell enough cars to justify the US factory that pumps them out, even as buyer interested dwindles. While the North American car seems to be undergoing an identity crisis, other Galant around the world seem to be thriving in varying degrees
Asian and European market cars come in considerably more variations. Some of those variations are considerably more performance oriented than the American cars. The very name of the Australian car “380 GT” suggests a sports sedan. Although subtle compared to GTZ and VR-4 models of the past, they still sport the 3.8L V6. More power aside, exciting and distinctive styling in America would go a long way to boosting sales. The Camry and Accord have become more stylish in their attempt to further their sales numbers, leaving the Galant further behind. Formally sleepy appliances like Hyundai’s Sonata are now far more compelling than the Galant and show how important style is to this segment.
With Mitsubishi’s recent troubles compounded by the announcement that it will end production of the once popular Eclipse, one wonders if the Galant will follow suit. The company’s lone luxury car, the Diamante was axed in 2005, leaving room for the Galant line to grow. Mitsubishi sells 21 models overall, but only 9 in the US market. Currently the Lancer and various SUVs are selling well but in such small numbers, they alone could not sustain the company. Mitsubishi ranked 26th in sales in America with over 55,000 units sold in all of 2010. Toyota sold half as many Camry in July alone. That puts it behind the soon to be dead Mercury brand and ahead of Volvo. Although sales were up from last year, it represents less than 1.6% of the total market in 2010.
The Galant alone couldn’t fix all that’s broken with Mitsubishi, but the exposure that comes with having a top seller in the most hotly contested mid-sized sedan segment would go a long way towards raising the corporate profile in the market. Rumors of Mitsubishi withdrawing from the market to reappear with “B” segment cars makes sense considering that it seems to do better with smaller cars. Perhaps the Galant as we know it will go away and comeback as the small quirky compact it started out as. After all, winning the most changed award is not always so great.