Mitsubishi Sport Truck : 2004

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Remember all those Mitsubishi truck tailgates where the owners spelled out different words with the letters M-I-T-S-U-B-I-S-H-I? Some were rude, but our favorite was "IT'S SUSHI." Well, when the all-new Mitsubishi medium-size truck bows in 2005 as a 2006 model, tailgaters will have a whole host of new spelling options.

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The Mitsubishi Sport Truck Concept was revealed at the Detroit auto show, a month before Dodge revealed its own truck at Chicago. Coincidence? We think not. We say that because the Dodge is the Mitsubishi and the Mitsubishi is the Dodge. Or it will be once these two are built. It?s a Dodge truck that will have Mitsubishi sheetmetal. True, Chrysler announced earlier this year that it wouldn?t be spending any more money on salvaging Mitsubishi, but by that time this medium-size truck deal had already been struck, so the new Dodgesubishi will go through, and that's a lot more letters on the tailgate. See if you can spell out some more words.

Then we approach the question faced by Mitsubishi designers and engineers: how to take what is basically a Dodge truck and make it their own. Distinguishing the two presents a real challenge, given the hard points of your basic truck chassis, frame rails, engine mounts, A-pillar. There just isn't a whole lot of room to make something unique from another company's vehicle, no matter how creative you are.

"It?ll be our take on it," Mitsubishi vp of marketing Ian Beavis assured us. "It'll look clearly like a Mitsubishi."

For an idea of the production truck we can look to the Sport Truck Concept. Some of that will see the light of the showroom floor.

"The fenders and grille are more production," said designer Richard Plavetich.

The rest? "It's like, what can you do with a pickup to make it exciting at an auto show?"

Mitsubishi did plenty. Take that neo-dual-cowl-phaeton rear seat. It slides rearward into the truck bed as the back glass goes up. Passengers are staring straight at certain decapitation in the event of a frontal collision, but up to that point they will look very cool. It's one of those design ideas you wish could go into production, but you would need some way to get around not only the federal vehicle laws but also the laws of physics. There isn't.

The tailgate is very innovative in the way it folds down and tucks under the bed of the truck. Very nice, and very impractical for any truck maker trying to save costs.

Nonetheless, Mitsubishi has filed patents on both the tailgate and rear seats of the concept, so maybe they will show up somewhere, some time.

Just as those aforementioned features are tragically not producible, the interior of the concept, for all its stark functionality, also seems doomed. Too bad, since features like the multifunctional flipper paddles flanking the steering column, the chrome surrounds on the minimalist instrument panel and the vertically slotted CD insert would all be tasty design items for consumers.

"It's pretty conceptual," said interior designer Chris Schuttera.

What more can we glean about the 2006 production Mitsubishi truck from this concept?

"We will always place greater emphasis on driving dynamics," said Beavis.

While the concept has an Endeavor rear suspension, it?s doubtful that would make it to production given that the Dodge suspension is already done. But Mitsubishi will have some room for tuning the springs and shocks, and promises to make those sporty.

"Consumers will be able to tell the difference," said Beavis. This is, after all, the same company that makes the Evolution.

(Mark Vaughn. Published Date: 8/16/04)

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