Mitsubishi has built its brand in the United States with a selection of cars and SUVs that tend to offer above-average performance and style. The parent company has its roots in producing commercial vehicles for its home market of Japan.
A Japanese word meaning "three diamonds," Mitsubishi was founded in by Yataro Iwasaki, a descendant of samurais, in the early 1870s. The company's initial focus was on shipping, but it quickly diversified into areas such as mining and ship repair. In 1917, Mitsubishi unveiled the Model A, Japan's first series production passenger car.
It wasn't until 1960, with the launch of the compact Mitsubishi 500, that the company began producing passenger vehicles on a large scale. That decade also saw the launch of other Mitsubishi light passenger vehicles like the 360 Van and 360 Pickup. The company also distinguished itself on the racetrack during this decade, taking top honors in Japan's Grand Prix.
Mitsubishi's automobile production arm was officially spun off into a company of its own with the establishment of Mitsubishi Motors Corporation in 1970. The company's Colt made its way to American shores in 1971, the same year in which Chrysler purchased a 15 percent stake in the new company. However, the Colt wasn't sold under the Mitsubishi name, but rather under the Dodge brand, reflecting Chrysler's interest in the company. By the end of the decade, Mitsubishi was producing more than 1 million cars per year.
In 1982, Mitsubishi began selling cars in the U.S. under its own name. Through the '80s it offered a variety of cars for the states, including the subcompact Mirage, turbocharged Starion sports car and midsize Galant sedan. Mitsubishi hit its stride in the '90s, thanks to the popularity of the Eclipse sport coupe and 3000GT sports car in the U.S. and the turbocharged Lancer Evolution in other parts of the world.
Chrysler made the most of its partnership, as it used Mitsubishi platforms under many of its models. The Eclipse, in particular, was a key vehicle produced by the Diamond Star Motors partnership. In 1998, Chrysler merged with Daimler-Benz to become DaimlerChrysler. Mitsubishi's partnership continued with DaimlerChrysler for a few years but was financially terminated by 2003.
The new millennium has been a struggle for Mitsubishi. Its vehicles have grown stale with consumers and sales have wavered. At one point the company was forced to admit that it had systematically covered up vehicle defects in Japan. On the upside, though, the company's compact, high-performance sedan, the Lancer Evolution, has been a continuing success in the United States. Going forward, Mitsubishi plans to revitalize its brand by developing environmentally friendly vehicles (such as its all-electric "i" hatchback) that are still fun to drive.