Mitsubishi has been around since about 1917, starting as Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Company. The company is well-recognized for its sports cars and hatchbacks, but they have since expanded into SUVs to meet consumer demand.
Their first series-production vehicle was an entirely hand-built 7-seater sedan based on the Fiat Tipo 3 platform. By 1921, it was deemed too expensive to market compared to American and European markets, and just after the 22nd vehicle was built the production ended. In 1934, Mitsubishi Shipbuilding was merged with Mitsubishi Aircraft Company, which was established in 1920 as a company that built aircraft engines and parts. When the two companies merged, the new unified company was called Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and was the largest private company in Japan.
When MHI was established, they began producing, aircraft, ships, railroad cars, and machinery, but by 1937 they built their first Japanese-built passenger car with full-time four-wheel drive, a prototype sedan used for military use called the PX33. The technology would be resurrected almost 50 years later when the company would turn to motorsports and sales success.
Following World War II, MHI returned to constructing vehicles like the Fuso bus and a three-wheeled, cargo vehicle called the Mizushima, and a scooter called the Silver Pigeon, but in 1950 the zaibatsu (Japan’s family-controlled industrial conglomerates) were ordered to dismantle by Allied Powers and was split into three separate entities.
East Japan Heavy Industries began importing the Henry J, an inexpensive American sedan built by Kaiser Motors in knockdown kit form in 1951. The production ran for three years.
In 1951, Central Japan Heavy Industries concluded a contract with Willys (owned by Kaiser) for Jeep CJ-3Bs, which allowed licensed Mitsubishi Jeep production to continue until about 1998, some 30 years after Willys replaced the model. By 1960, this company was renamed Shin Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and had re-established an automotive department in its headquarters. They were prepared to introduce the Mitsubishi 500, a mass-market sedan. In 1962, it introduced the Minica Kei car and the Colt 1000. Two years later, the Mitsubishi Debonair came out as a luxury car for the Japanese market.
West Japan Heavy Industries was renamed Mitsubishi Shipbuilding and Engineering and East Japan Heavy Industries was re-named Mitsubishi Nihon Heavy Industries. Both expanded their automotive departments in the 1950s and they were all three reintegrated again as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in 1964. Three years later, their combined output would hit 75,000 units a year. In 1969 Mitsubishi released the Mitsubishi Gallant.
Less than two decades later, in 1970, American Motors Corporation purchased the company. Chrysler also started purchasing assets, which would lead to mergers until AMC moved under the umbrella of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles or FCA.
Over the next several decades, Mitsubishi would undergo growing pains and would partner up with several other automotive manufacturers including Chrysler, Hyundai, Samcor, Proton, Volvo Cars, Suzuki, Hindustan, Volvo Trucks, Groupe PSA, Volkswagen, Nissan, and at present the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance. Many makes and models would be collaborated on over the next several years and Mitsubishi would also venture into Motorsport and circuit racing, off-road racing, and even a 30-year partnership with movie actor and martial arts sensation Jackie Chan to create several vehicles. Today however Mitsubishi is most known for SUV models like the Outlander, the Outlander PHEV - an electric version of the Outlander, the Eclipse Cross, the Outlander Sport, and sedans like the popular Mitsubishi Lancer, or the Mirage G4, and the Mirage Hatchback.
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