Mitsubishi’s concepts are about to get real

The Mitsubishi GT-PHEV Concept, shown in Paris, gives a hint at what the next-generation Outlander will look like when it arrives in 2019.

PARIS — The Mitsubishi stand at this year’s Paris auto show featured a familiar sight for the brand: a bold crossover concept wrapped around a next-generation plug-in hybrid powertrain.

This time, it was the GT-PHEV Concept — also dubbed the Ground Tourer — the latest in a string of global auto show concept debuts from Mitsubishi over the past three years.

But next year, Mitsubishi’s debuts will stop being concepts and start being production models, highlighted by a design shift spearheaded by Tsunehiro Kunimoto, an elder statesman of style who joined Mitsubishi as its global design chief in 2014 at age 64 after 40 years at Nissan.

“Mitsubishi can challenge [rivals] because of our heritage, our history,” said Tsunehiro Kunimoto, Mitsubishi global design chief.

Kunimoto’s goal at Mitsubishi is straightforward yet daunting: Play up the tough heritage and historically stout reputation of Mitsubishi’s SUVs while challenging expectations and moving the brand firmly into the 21st century.

To do this, he studied Mitsubishi’s heritage on a global scale as soon as he arrived.

“Mitsubishi can challenge [rivals] because of our heritage, our history,” Kunimoto told Automotive News at the Paris show, citing the well-regarded Montero/Pajero SUV twins that earned the brand its off-road chops around the world for decades. “That’s what the customer expects of a Mitsubishi — very tough, reliable, solid — that’s what I want to maintain and improve that image.”

The Ground Tourer itself is a hint at what the next-generation Outlander will look like when it arrives in 2019. That production model is expected to grow incrementally and move upmarket, echoing the ascent of Mazda’s recent CX-9 crossover.

With this in mind, the concept in Paris showed off a more upscale design theme. The roof is painted darker than the body, and the C-pillar is blacked out, a device designers of the Lexus RX and Nissan Murano have used recently to make the cabin seem less heavy.

The effect is a “floating roof” look similar to that of the Land Rover Range Rover line; this feature is expected to carry over to the production vehicle, Kunimoto said.

The inside of the Ground Tourer’s also hints at the future of Mitsubishi, relying on horizontal lines to maximize outward visibility and increase the feeling of space and featuring a high center console that’s aimed at giving the driver and front passenger a sense of security, Kunimoto said.

The new direction for Mitsubishi and Kunimoto on production models starts next spring with the arrival of a new compact crossover at the Geneva auto show.

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