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Interview

Mitsubishi Motors will not be the third wheel in alliance: CEO

Osamu Masuko stresses independence as Renault and Nissan are pulled closer

Mitsubishi will continue to produce cars in line with its identity despite more cooperation with other companies.

TOKYO -- After a fuel economy scandal threatened Mitsubishi Motors' rebuilding in 2016, Nissan Motor threw the company a lifeline in the form of a capital tie-up. This brought it into the Renault-Nissan alliance, and the trio has proceeded to integrate such operations as research and development and purchasing.

But with France playing matchmaker for Nissan and Renault, what becomes of Mitsubishi Motors and its identity? CEO Osamu Masuko sat down with Nikkei to discuss the automaker's future.

Edited excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: The French government wants Nissan and Renault to more deeply integrate. Doesn't this mean that Mitsubishi Motors would get swallowed up?

A: Our alliance is concerned with getting results as efficiently as possible. We actively cooperate in fields where it is easy to produce effects, such as developing automated driving and purchasing. We can help one another secure talent and develop technologies, areas where companies are limited when working alone.

But the alliance is predicated on each company's independence. We will not move forward on something if even one member is opposed or sacrifice one company for the other two.

Q: Can Mitsubishi Motors survive the once-a-century change occurring in the auto industry today?

A: At this year's Davos conference, I felt the faded presence of the auto industry and Japanese manufacturers. We cannot directly fight information technology companies like Google and Huawei Technologies that employ tens of thousands of engineers. The era of dominance for car assemblers is over, and we must cooperate with "platformers."

Q: Do you think Mitsubishi Motors will lose its identity as it increases cooperation with other companies?

Mitsubishi Motors CEO Osamu Masuko

A: Even if the alliance shares technology, we will not lose our preference for producing rugged cars like the Pajero and the Lancer Evolution. There are not many four-wheel-drive plug-in hybrids on the market, so we will continue to value these qualities.

Q: Mitsubishi Corp. plans to raise its stake to 20%. Do you still need its support?

A: In the past, we relied on the trading house for funds, information and talent, but things are different today. We get information in real time, and the personnel needed to develop next-generation technologies have changed. Trading houses need to move away from their current business model as well.

A truly global company creates something with allies from around the world. Mitsubishi Motors is hiring more new graduates from overseas, but I want to make bolder changes in the next medium-term management plan starting in 2020.

Q: Mitsubishi Motors released in March the Eclipse Cross, its first new domestic model in four years.

A: We decided to make it before the tie-up with Nissan. The need to come to a full stop crossed our mind following the fuel economy scandal, but this was a car designed to help us move forward.

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