Sophomore. It’s a paradoxical combination of the Greek “sophos,” meaning wise, and “moros,” meaning dull or foolish. Those opposing forces make the second year, the second album, the second film, or the second generation of a sports car a challenging prospect, and sets the tone for what follows. Thus is the story of the Mitsubishi Eclipse.
The first generation Mitsubishi Eclipse (and Plymouth Laser, and Eagle Talon) was – in no uncertain terms – a performance standout when it arrived in 1989. It was scheduled to replace the Starion (and give Plymouth dealers something to sell in replacement for the Dodge Stealth).
When it showed up in the 1990 model year, it was simultaneously something of a dental hygienist’s car in the base form, but in turbocharged Eclipse GS-T form, it was mighty quick for its day. With 190hp on tap, and just 2,745 pounds to move, it could hit 60 mph in just 7.4 seconds.
The Eclipse GSX showed up a little after the full line introduction. Remember, this is 1990. Four wheel drive is essentially confined to trucks and SUVs, exotic sports cars, and weird economy cars like the Subaru Justy. So when it showed up in the Eclipse, which anybody with a halfway decent job could afford, it was a revelation.
That car literally paved the way for all all-wheel drive sports cars to come. It made it something that people thought about more for its performance potential than for slogging through the snow.
Then the second generation arrived in 1995, the magic appeared to wane. What started out as a lightweight, relatively inexpensive, everyman’s sports car started to pack on the pounds. The hatchback went up into 2,800 pounds. The Spyder convertible model tipped the scales at 3,100 pounds. While the Eclipse GS-T and later GSX were 10 Best winners at Car and Driver every year from 1989 to 1994, the second generation car was never as loved.
And then it just got worse from there. Every subsequent generation got further and further away from the original intent. The third generation Eclipse showed up in 2000, and everyone who had shown any interest in the first two generations reacted with dismay.
The Eclipse actually started with the updated Mitsubishi Galant, an uninspired, milquetoast sedan that couldn’t outperform a Camry. It left the Eclipse fatter, less exciting, and controversial to look at. The addition of a V6 didn’t help anything. The V6 was smoother than the thrashy, unruly turbo four-cylinder it replaced, but that’s kind of what people bought these cars for.
Curb weight went up again, nudging close to 3,100 pounds even for the coupe, let alone the portly convertible, and that weird cladding made it look like it was styled by the folks at Pontiac, circa 1989.
The final version arrived in 2006, with a new platform, still closely linked to the Galant, but also to the Mitsubishi Endeavor a hideous crossover SUV that failed to find 32,000 owners the first year, and competed in a race to the bottom every year after.
Here’s a tip for you automotive executives out there: If you’ve slated your sportscar’s to also be the underpinning of a fat-ass crossover SUV, it’s probably time to put in for retirement and work for a company that makes deodorant, because you clearly have missed the point of building automobiles.
Adding insult to injury, the Eclipse – which had showcased all-wheel drive as a viable sports car platform – came in front-wheel drive only.
The sales slide was EPIC. At its peak, Mitsubishi was selling 80,000 Eclipse coupes alone every year. In 2002, Mitsubishi was selling more than 54,000 Eclipse coupes and almost 18,000 Eclipse Spyders. By 2010, Mitsubishi sold a total of 4,282 Eclipse Coupes and Spyders combined.
More insidiously, the failure was more than just a bad product. It was Mitsubishi’s reliance on cheap credit. In 2003, the secret to Mitsubishi’s growth was its 0-0-0 credit plan, with zero down, zero percent interest, zero per month for the first year. Now, we’re liberal arts majors here at BoldRide, but $0 dollars up front, no interest and deferred payments for twelve months seems like a fairly quick way to dig yourself into the Marianas Trench.
At the end of the 12 months Mitsubishi was shocked – shocked – to learn that its credit-risky customers were defaulting on their loans after hooning their Eclipses all over the place for a year. The cars Mitsubishi collected after 12 months were actually worth less than they had cost to manufacture. Mitsubishi’s credit arm was forced to write off $454 million against its numbers in 2003.
The Eclipse disappeared after the 2011 model year, along with most hopes that the brand would be able to weather the storm in any significant way. You’re mostly likely to find a new Mitsubishi product on a rental lot today.
Image Source: GoodCarBadCar.net