Here’s what Mitsubishi is forsaking by killing the Pajero

So Mitsubishi is killing off what is arguably its most iconic model. No, not the Lancer Evo, a specialty sports sedan made for select first world markets. We’re talking about the Pajero, a rugged off-roader sold in 170 countries, that made Mitsubishi Motors an esteemed brand in even the most remote corners of the globe. Maybe the executives are right, and shuttering the Pajero factory makes business sense. But with the demise of the Pajero, Mitsubishi is losing something that it will never be able to buy back — nearly four decades of prestige and respect forged from a reputation of being able to traverse any terrain with speed and strength. 

The most visible proof of that was the Paris-Dakar Rally, one of the toughest races in the world, but one that Mitsubishi won 12 times. That included an unprecedented seven-year consecutive streak and the utter defeat of rivals like Nissan, Toyota, Isuzu, Renault, Citroen, Mercedes, and Porsche. And although Mitsubishi has not competed in the race since the global financial crisis of 2008, it still holds the record for the most wins by any carmaker, one that seems unlikely to be toppled anytime soon.

However, it wasn’t that the Pajero was developed specifically for Dakar. It just happened to be spectacularly well suited for this type of rally raid competition. Unlike traditional off-road trucks, the Pajero’s development concept is that of a kurokan — a portmanteau of cross-country — vehicle, one that excels at traveling across any terrain.

In Japan, the term kurokan has come to mean a real ladder-frame SUVs (while SUVs can refer to unibody cars with an outdoorsy motif like the original CR-V). However, the Pajero isn’t necessarily a one-trick pony rock crawler. Its expertise is superior mobility across any type of road or surface.

As such, it’s had independent front suspension from the beginning. This underlying vehicle concept helped it achieve tremendous success at Dakar right out of the box, in relative stock form. The Pajero got on the podium in its very first running, in third, and won outright this insanely difficult race in only its second year, 1985.

It has a distinctly different concept than the Land Cruiser and contemporary Range Rovers. It was a bit of a hybrid between and off-road truck and rally car. At the same time, the Pajero had a diverse lineup, from 2-door convertible to high-roof 5-door wagon, utilitarian to luxury with lots of gadgets.

Old Montero ads and brochures in the US did mention Dakar, and car magazines wrote about it here and there, but few Americans cared. In countries like France, though, the races are televised, during the holidays between Christmas and past New Year’s when the multi-day event is traditionally held. We definitely missed out.

That’s because the Paris-Dakar Rally is utterly ridiculous. It makes the Baja 1000 look like child’s play. The route changes from year to year but they’ve even run it from Paris to Cape Town, a distance of 7,722 miles. It’s was likely the most grueling auto race in the world, and words cannot truly describe its sheer madness.

Luckily, Mitsubishi has published several videos of the Pajero’s escapades there. These films capture just how punishing these contests can be, with mid-race transmission changes, unforgiving terrain, and deadly mistakes. It’s probably the closest one can get to a real-life Mad Max chase sequence.

After seeing the ruthless nature of Paris-Dakar, Mitsubishi’s dozen championships become even more impressive. There are even more if you count the class wins, and the overall stage wins total an astounding 150. At Dakar, nobody even came close.

Again, it was the underlying vehicle concept that made the Pajero such a formidable competitor in the sands of Africa. Most 80s and 90s Japanese off-roaders had their own unique concepts and charms, all very recreational and gadget-y, like specialized toys. The Pajero’s just happened to be stampeding across an entire continent.

In a time when SUV (in the Japanese definition of the term) are so popular they’re eclipsing sedans as the default car type, when car enthusiasts prefer overlanding to oversteering, and when Ford and Chevy and Jeep are bringing back names like Bronco and Blazer and Gladiator, it seems utterly foolish to axe a nameplate with so much heritage and potential. The Pajero, with all its abilities and records, has something other carmakers can only dream of. It’s a shame that soon, once the Pajero’s birthplace is gone, Mitsubishi itself will only be able to dream about it as well.

Images courtesy of Mitsubishi.

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18 Responses to Here’s what Mitsubishi is forsaking by killing the Pajero

  1. DallasD says:

    How unfortunate that Mitsubishi will eliminate their opportunity to reinvent the existing Pajero or Raider as a competitor to the Jeep and Bronco. Partner with another manufacturer to get an engine that automotive enthusiasts and journalists will praise. Let the other manufacturer revise the interior to make it retro-modern, and re-brand the vehicle for North America. Keep the Pajero name for the rest of the world. Maybe that’s still too risky, I don’t know.

    The first car my wife and I bought together was a Corolla. The first car we ever drove in together was her mom’s red Raider, either an ’88 or ’89. She let us take it on short road trips every week or so around the Midwest USA.

    Our most memorable experience was getting caught in a snowstorm, 1.5 hours from home in the middle of nowhere at night, with over a foot of fresh snow along the narrow rural highway. The roads were empty, travel not advised. Good thing her mom ran snow tires year-round. We shifted to 4H and went 35 MPH all the way home without a worry. I was not at all versed in trucks or off-roading, and a relatively inexperienced driver, and we were very surprised to have made it home so easily.

  2. Sid says:

    Goodbye to a Real Legend!

  3. Alvin says:

    With the Pajero gone and must of the Mitsubishi automotive lineup gutted, what’s Mitsubishi really making now? Kei cars and work trucks mostly now? They may as well give up, as the global recession likely isn’t going to do them any favors at this point.

  4. Andrei Cristian Ion says:

    The Pajero abandoned by Mitsubishi is like a suicide attempt .
    It is entirelly wrong , but Mitsubishi managment has been wrong for many decades .

    In fact the whole thing starts with a general financial weekness and I am persuaded
    that the alliance Renault – Nissan – Mitsubishi , could have been benneficial , with Gosn at the head of the conglomerate . Whatever Gosn might have done wrong , it is not comparable with how much he did good to the group . One thing is sure , Gosn was and is an extremely inteligent person by all standards ; I am sure he could have find out a better solution .

    Example : The Pajero sport is made in Thailand , therefore the Pajero production could have been transfered to Thailand . The engine could have been updated …..modernized ……
    I have spent 30 years in Thailand ; I know the Pajero sport quite well . Guess what ?
    I arrived in Australia few month ago and bought the Pajero ….the real deal .

  5. Peter Cooke says:

    I can’t believe that Mitsubishi disenbowel
    A another fabulous 4X4 vehicle like the pajero
    My wife gave me an option to not by a mustang and I could choose any other vehicle so I choose the top of the range pajero and it’s been the best vehicle I’ve ever own. It’s going to be a very sad day for all pajero owners in Australia. I hope the power to be in Japan who made this ridiculous decision have a hard look at them self and there board members. All I can say is I love this vehicle and it will be a very disheartening day when it’s manufacture life is finished for good.
    It’s just like a friend of mine who worked for Mitsubishi factory in Adelaide S.A for 25yrs
    And he said the day it closed the factory down and the last day they finished it wasn’t a happy day it was mournful day that he said still remembers.
    The r a old saying in Australia .When you are on a good thing stick to it. Peter

  6. Garry Hargrave says:

    Mitzi,, you just needed to make the Pajero BIGGER to match landcruser and that other tub, in the same format / shape as the new pajero sport,, but Bigger , did I mention Bigger,, and you would have a winner Just like all the other models of pajero before the last of which I have MY 19 and Just Love that 4×4 system there is nothing LIKE that 4×4 system that is not to over the top on electrics and it works..

  7. Charlie Stokes. says:

    Extremely sad story. 2017 I wanted to by a new Pajero. One with all the smarts that the Everest had.
    Not possible not even as options. Instead I had to take a Pajero Sports Exceed to get most of the smarts. Whilst the Sports is ok, it’s just ok. Handling poorer, width poorer and payload space poorer. Sales are likely fally also. If Mitzabishi had of updated to high level smarts in the Pajero instead of down grading to the Sports it’s likely sales would have soared. Just imagine a Pajero with all the Safety smarts and that beautiful 8 speed auto box behind that 3 litre motor what a vehicle it would be. I’d be first in line for that. I believe it’s goodbye Mitzabishi with the Pajero gone.

  8. Robert Asmah says:

    Just bought a brand new 2020 Pajero. If the Pajero goes, Mitsubishi will be the loser. Disgusted!

  9. Mark F Newton-John says:

    Well… Money and sales. Face it, Mitsubishi is nothing like it was even ten years ago, and to even stay in business, you have to make the tough choices. Even Toyota may drop Land Cruiser in North America because of miniscule sales.
    Like it or not, it’s an SUV/crossover world.

  10. Simon says:

    Most reliable and capable suvs I have ever used

  11. John Thomas says:

    I was told by a professional spray painter that people are not buying new cars but they doing up there old car. If that is true maybe it’s why sales are down?

    • Lisa says:

      Possibly lots of people are doing the one gen 1s up. My partner and myself are both doing up the short wheel base and long wheel base. To my partner they are the toughest cars going we have bee everywhere and the old girls never given us problems and being old they are easier to fix. Less electronic buisness. But in saying that we do still want a new pajero for the family ?‍♀️ just we will have to buy one asap!

  12. Steven says:

    G’day it’s Steven from down under

    I’ve been a Mitsubishi owner and fan for over three decades,
    they’ve struggled financially for many years due to done point decisions and also due to being independent, however know that they’re part of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance things will gradually get back on track.

    Sadly Mitsubishi Motors has damaged it’s own legacy and I’d would life to her return to her former glory.

    Steven from Sydney Australia

  13. Negishi no Keibajo says:

    Maybe someday, it will be a comeback story like the Ford Bronco. (Please don’t reincarnate like some lame unibody Chevy Blazer). They have the technology. If they could just regain the will. I really think it’s still a very marketable brand. When our world gets its footing again, I’d like to see at least a heavy Mitsubishi truck back in the Dakar Rally. I’m going to just leave it with good night. Not good bye.

  14. Andrei Cristian Ion says:

    Mitsubishi does not have the financial power to keep going with the most attractive vehicles ,like the Pajero .
    They start doing silly , end of the 80′ , when an audit find out the faulty components ,
    sub standard accessories like wrong diesel pumps ( Solex) have been kept for over 10 years .

    In order to survive in a decent way , Mitsubishi might need a stronger alliance like
    Toyota ( The same could be said about Mazda , nice , classy vehicles but not the financial power to go forward with a financially positive result )

    Mitsubishi could have taken over the production of pick up trucks , INCLUDING NISSAN ONES . This would have brought a bit of liquidity to the group

    In 1982 , the first 3,300 Mitsubishi Colt , imported in France , sold within 6 month ……..and
    at that time Japanese cars were restricted by quotas by many of european countries .

    Once again that was a good product , which dissapeared , replaced by bland designs .

    Getting out of Europe , will weight on the financial health of Mitsubishi in the years to come
    if they downsize in terms of markets and volumes , they should downsize the whole army of paper pushers in the offices , and even more the “Fat Cats ” managers with enormous

  15. damn shame really
    the Pajero in many parts of the world has enough weight in its name to be its own brand
    and a refresh or a wholly new design could have been easily a Bronco/Wrangler, or even 4Runner fighter in the US if mitsu tried

    • Andrei Cristian Ion says:

      Just in theory , this could be possible !

      There is a company interested in buying JEEP , to start with …….It is Great Wall / Haval
      China .
      This same company is also interested in taking over the productive structure which has been producing Chevrolet , respectivelly Holden for the last 12 or so years in THAILAND .

      Pajero could be added to this new large group .

      …….But this is pure theory

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