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‘380’ is the new Magna

Magna’s number’s up: get used to ‘380 v Falcon v Commodore’

Mitsubishi announces the name of its make-or-break family sedan due in October

5 Jul 2005

‘380’ is the name of Mitsubishi’s upcoming all-new large family sedan.

It replaces the 20-year old Magna moniker, as well as Verada, from October.

Furthermore, each of the three models on offer at launch time (base, sporty and luxury) will have letters following the 380 designation.

What these will be is a secret as Mitsubishi is still very keen to keep some of the new car’s intrigue going until its launch. Something close to ‘380 LS’ or ‘380 Vi’ is likely.

The use of alphanumeric nomenclature should also help the company attract more private as well as less conservative buyers.

In recent times the proportion of fleet Magna sales has been up to 90 per cent.

With MMAL planning for 2500 sales monthly, it would like to see the 380’s private sales performance exceed 700 units, or 25 per cent.

"We’ve tended to concentrate on the fleet/corporate market (with Magna/Verada) but we’d like to have more access to some of the retail market," says Mitsubishi Motors Australia Limited (MMAL) CEO Tom Phillips.

"You’d want some individuality there and this car will express that," he adds.

To that end MMAL decided on ‘380’ because it suggests a powerful engine as well as a big car to consumers while conjuring up "...images of high technology, European standards, sophistication and performance with consumers". "It is by far the best fit for our car," Tom Phillips says.

MMAL has already revealed that the Magna replacement would be a 3.8-litre V6 engine sedan that’s space-competitive with its locally built rivals.

The ‘380’ moniker has caught many industry observers by surprise. Galant was widely tipped to get the guernsey for the model hitherto known as the ‘PS41’.

But even though it’s used on the North American-built model that has been reengineered (with 70 per cent new parts) to become the uniquely Australian 380, MMAL felt that the Galant’s ‘four-cylinder’ image didn’t convey the power and size of the new sedan.

"Its image is too small for our car," explained Mr Phillips.

Like Magna, and presumably Valiant and Sigma, these are issues as a result of the residual baggage the Galant name has acquired in its previous incarnations.

Already there have been five distinctly bodied Galant-badged Mitsubishi and Chrysler cars sold intermittently in Australia since 1971.

Nevertheless MMAL did consider Mitsubishi in Japan’s request of keeping the Galant name for Australia for global consistency’s sake.

"But we did all the proper research to alleviate their fears that we didn’t do the right thing (by choosing 380 instead)," Mr Phillips points out.

Similarly, due to the sheer newness of the 380 (less than two per cent of parts are carried over from the present model, when about 30 per cent is the norm in a redesign scenario), the Magna and Verada names were also ditched.

Mr Phillips adds: "We felt we wanted to make a very strong statement about a change at Mitsubishi – a 100 per cent change.

"The car’s 100 per cent changed and we wanted to take this message right through.

"Because of our circumstances (Magna and Verada) have attracted a certain type of image about the uncertainty of our future. Some of it would have been fixed just by releasing a new Magna.

"But we felt at the time that this time we wanted a clean start."The four-speed automatic gearbox gremlins that troubled the early generation Magna series (namely the 1985 TM and ’87 TN) still pop up in research the company conducts, contributing to the name-dropping.

"Magna doesn’t have an issue product wise – the transmission problem occurred over 10 years ago – but it’s an image thing," Mr Phillips reflects.

Nevertheless he emphasised that he receives many letters from people requesting that MMAL not change the Magna and Verada names.

MMAL says that ‘380’ was decided upon in 2003 following its most extensive naming research ever.

It involved 221 initial suggestions that were eventually whittled down to seven, and then three, before the choice was made.

Galant made it into the top seven, along with several others that the company refuses to disclose ("...I just want to stay focussed on 380 at this stage," Mr Phillips told GoAuto).

Input from both within and outside MMAL was sought, particularly from its dealer group, who had a big say in the matter.

The Adelaide-based company also learned during this time that coming up with a name that the public ‘liked’ was less critical than settling on one that they ‘disliked’.

Mr Phillips says that many of Australia’s most popular cars’ monikers weren’t necessarily ‘liked’ by consumers, but that hasn’t hindered their market success.

The 380 name launch kicks off its public (as opposed to February’s press) pre-launch campaign that will see a range of marketing activities leading up to the October release at the Sydney motor show.

They’ll include TV commercials featuring the 380’s different attributes, Internet updates and a print campaign directing them to a specific 380 website.

Plus 200 coffee cups with the new name will be distributed throughout Sydney and Melbourne beginning this week – a sure indicator of the target market sought.

And then there are the remaining controlled media information drip feeds.

After all, there’s much still to be revealed, including the final front and rear styling, power and torque outputs, equipment levels, exact pricing and product-positioning details.

MMAL announced the name to the press as well as its production workers at the same time in Sydney on Monday.

One of the best-kept secrets in the car industry, MMAL finally unveiled the moniker painted across a promotional airship flying over the assembled press conference.

21 center imageUsing an airship was ironic, since the last purely numerical designated Australian-developed car, the 1919-1924 Australian ‘Six’, was around during that mode of transportation’s brief, explosive heyday.

And the 380 also happens to be the first alphanumerical model engineered specifically for Australia since the demise of the Leyland P76 in 1974.

But Tom Phillips isn’t at all fazed by the past.

"The 380 will invigorate the big-car segment," he confidently predicts.

Pace, space and sparks flying

AFTER 39 months, and with just three left to go before the launch, there are plenty of details yet to be unveiled by Mitsubishi regarding its $600 million investment in the project.

Of what it has divulged, the most controversial has been its insistence that the 380’s cabin space matches is more than a match for its Falcon and Commodore competition.

Ford and Holden have since challenged MMAL’s claims made last month, particularly on the issue of legroom, but Tom Phillips is holding firm.

"We use the Mitsubishi Motors Corporation universal (measuring) standard, that we have to do, and that’s how it turned out.

"We put the journalists (from the 380’s cabin room during the June press conference) in Adelaide in the car and showed them what was there, so there are no issues.

"The numbers are real. We can measure the Falcon we can measure the Commodore they can’t measure our car (yet). We’re not dudding anything here.

"I think it’s good that they recognise that we’re in the market."The 380 will also offer "the highest quality ever seen in an Australian-built car", according to Tom Phillips, as a result of the $250 million Adelaide manufacturing plant refurbishment that includes a $30 million one-piece side-panel press.

Production commences in September. Some 56 prototypes have already been built and tested here, in Japan, Switzerland and Germany.

Its 3.8-litre V6 engine is the first locally made car to meet Euro III emissions requirements and upcoming drive-by noise regulations.

Space efficiency will be class leading (like a Tardis it’s "smaller on the outside but just as big on the inside as its competitors" says MMAL), as will be the base model’s standard features list.

Besides the entry level model there will also be a sporty and luxury variants, all with ride and handling characteristics comparable with "well-known European cars".

In fact the "agile and sporty" 380 will be pitched as a driver’s car.

The company says that customer clinics have rated the 380’s size as ‘just right’ as well as the most stylish car in its class by a Sydney consumer group 12 months ago.

No left-hand drive capability has been developed (originally a 380 variation was earmarked for North America until massive financial difficulties at Mitsubishi in the US killed the project) but Tom Phillips isn’t ruling out exports beyond New Zealand.

"We don’t have any (overseas) orders but hopefully after its launch people will see how good it is," he says.

And hows’ the outgoing Magna/Verada performing in its final few months?MMAL has around 3000, or 1000 per month, to shift before October.

Mr Phillips says the company is on track to meet that target.

Revolution of the species

THE 380 traces its heritage back to the 1971 Mitsubishi baby that the then Chrysler Australia imported from Japan to replace the British-sourced Hillman Hunter models in its small-car line-up.

Back then, the rear-wheel drive 1.3-litre GA Galant fended off its Datsun 1200, Toyota Corolla and Mazda 1300 compatriots for the American-owned corporation.

During the 1970s the Galant evolved into the larger and more popular GC/GD series.

But the real bounty was struck with the completely redesigned and reengineered GE generation, sold here as the phenomenally successful Chrysler Sigma Galant from 1977.

In no small terms the bigger Sigma saved the Adelaide manufacturer’s bacon, quashing the once-domineering mid-sized Toyota (Corona), Datsun (200B and later the Bluebird) and Holden Sunbird while reducing its reliance on the withering Valiant.

In fact, so entrenched had the Sigma quickly become that by late 1980 the Mitsubishi Motor Corporation purchased Chrysler Australia to become Mitsubishi Motors Australia Limited.

Yet the real innovation was still around the corner.

After three lacklustre years with the rebodied rear-drive GJ Sigma, MMAL took the 1983 Japanese-market Galant, widened it and made it tougher for Australian conditions.

The ensuing rapturous critical reception ensured the front-wheel drive TM Magna from 1985 carved out a decent market share for itself.

It also led to Mazda and Toyota (with the wide-bodied 1992 626 and 1993 Camry respectively) to follow suit.

Meanwhile the Galant returned as a premium-priced HG import in 1989, but sold in ever-decreasing numbers as its price skyrocketed.

The model was discontinued for the second time in 1996 with the last of the HJ series.

During this time the portlier second-generation Magna (the 1991 TR) grew out of the Diamante model, itself a luxury car based on the HG Galant platform but sporting a bespoke body and interior.

However, despite the arrival of an imported 3.0-litre V6, this Mitsubishi struggled a little with its ageing Astron 2.6 base engine, so it wasn’t until the third iteration – the TE of April 1996 – that the model found its funk again.

This time a gutsy V6 was locally assembled while world-class levels of refinement and dynamics hit the sweet spot for consumers. A successful career as an export to the US also evolved.

But a puzzlingly myopic lack of product development that was exacerbated by 2003’s divisive and misguided TL facelift, saw the Magna suffer seriously against its newer local rivals – a situation that has seen sales plummet to a fraction of what they used to be today.

Already this year the smaller Lancer range has outsold the once mighty Magna.

The 380, like the first Magna and Sigma before it, has a precedent to follow.

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