Mitsubishi Canada is expanding its dealership footprint in Atlantic Canada as it rolls out its second dealer image program in three years nationwide.
The automaker in May opened two new stores in the Atlantic provinces: Steele Mitsubishi in Halifax, N.S., and Charlottetown Mitsubishi on Prince Edward Island. With nine stores in Atlantic Canada, Mitsubishi sees the region as “a key growth market” moving forward.
“Our portfolio of smaller sport-utilities with [all-wheel-drive system] S-AWC aligns with the needs of Atlantic Canada [consumers],” John Vernile, Mitsubishi Canada director of regional operations, said in an emailed statement.
He said the company meshes with the Maritimers’ needs for all-weather-capable vehicles.
An average winter in Moncton, N.B., for example, has about triple the snowfall of Toronto or Edmonton, and about double that of Calgary.
“Add to this Outlander PHEV’s momentum as the best-selling plug-in hybrid in Atlantic Canada in April and you have a solid foundation for growth.”
The new Halifax and P.E.I. stores were the latest dealerships to be built to the specifications of the automaker’s new global image program, affecting 5,000 stores worldwide and supplanting a 2017 Canada-specific dealership image program that was in progress.
Mitsubishi Canada spokeswoman Michelle Lee-Gracey said that as of May 1, 64 percent of the automaker’s national dealer network had enrolled in the program, up from 50 per cent when it was announced in July 2018. The automaker expects 15 to 20 of its 93 stores to be image-compliant by the end of the year, and it aims to grow to 100 stores in Canada over the company's next fiscal year, which runs from April to March. Some of the new stores will be located in Quebec as well as the eastern and western provinces, said Lee-Gracey who would not elaborate because of “non-disclosure agreements.”
The image program comes as Mitsubishi looks to expand its market share with a refreshed vehicle lineup.
“We’re seeing the retail footprint changing quite a bit” with the new program, Lee-Gracey said, and it’s happening quickly. “There’s momentum, while at the same time we have an aggressive product offensive.”
DIFFERENT FROM NISSAN
John Hairabedian, president of the Quebec-based HGregoire dealership group, said its Mitsubishi store in Laval, Que., underwent renovations for the previous image program in 2017 and will be retrofitted over the summer to meet the new requirements. No renovation timetable is in place for another Mitsubishi store the group owns, he said.
Dealers in Canada “can’t do much” to avoid often-costly manufacturer-mandated renovations to their stores, Hairabedian said. But he likes Mitsubishi’s image program “a lot” because it can help the brand stand out from Nissan, which, like Mitsubishi, is part of an alliance along with France-based automaker Renault.
“Mitsubishi having a brand identity that’s very different from Nissan is important, so I like it. We’re anxious to see how they’re going to differentiate both products. The last thing we want is for them to cannibalize each other.”
Mitsubishi dealers pay for the renovations themselves, with support from the automaker, though Lee-Gracey declined to say how much support.
Automaker-mandated renovation programs have long been a source of angst for retailers in Canada, as they must often pay millions of dollars to renovate their stores. Some contend such renovations offer little return on investment in an increasingly digital retail landscape, while automakers say having modern technology and a consistent look are crucial to maintaining a brand’s strength amid changes in the car-shopping process.
‘A BRAND TO CONTEND WITH’
The first Canadian store to open under the new image program was Saint-Hyacinthe Mitsubishi in Quebec.
Tammy Roach, dealer principal at Charlottetown Mitsubishi, said the program will help re-establish the brand in the province. It will be the third Canadian store to open under the new program.
“Mitsubishi wasn’t on P.E.I. for 12 years prior to me opening,” Roach said, “so, a lot of people might hesitate and think, ‘Are they staying?’ But now that they see that I’ve committed so much and seen this renovation and how wonderful the showroom and everything looks, it says to people that Mitsubishi is a brand to contend with and to put on their list when they go shopping.”
Greg Layson contributed to this report.