Former Mitsubishi President offers a candid view of the auto industry in Canada.
The newly-retired President of Mitsubishi Motor Sales of Canada, Tony Laframboise, recently sat down with Canadian AutoJournal magazine for an exclusive interview, offering insights into where the auto industry stands today, and what the near future is likely to bring.
Prior to serving as the head of Mitsubishi here in Canada, Laframboise had enjoyed a long and varied career, which began back in 1975 when he started working for Datsun. His career then took him to Kia (1999) and eventually to Mitsubishi (2001).
“I was the third employee hired at Kia, and the third hired at Mitsubishi,” Laframboise recalls.
He has also worked in a broad range of positions, from customer relations, as a parts and service rep, sales rep, product planning, parts marketing, purchasing, distribution, corporate planning—pretty much every role at the manufacturer level. He also worked as a general manager at a dealership, so he understands the retail end of the business.
The sales process
While much has changed since 1975, Laframboise believes there are some fundamentals that will always be commonplace in our industry. “I think one of the things you realize after so many years in the business is that selling cars hasn’t really changed all that much,” he says. “It’s still a one-on-one transaction that takes place between a customer and the dealer.
“Even today, with online purchasing, there’s still that personal touch. People still want to touch and feel their vehicle. There are some who don’t care and just go in and drive away with the car, but by and large, most want that personal touch.”
Comparing today’s vehicles with those we used to drive back in the ‘70s is an exercise in stark contrast. But what really impresses Laframboise is the pace of change we now see, and what we’re likely to experience in just the next few years.
“What I really find fascinating is that in the last five years I’ve seen more change than in the previous 10,” he explains. “Besides the technologies, we have electric cars coming into the market, which is something that really wasn’t talked about 10 years ago. And I think that in the next five to 10 years we’re going to see more development in technologies in vehicles than we’ve seen in the last 40.”
A big part of that change has to do with electrification, Laframboise believes. “The internal combustion engine is a lot more efficient than it used to be, and now everyone has some kind of electrification coming to their lineup—whether that’s a fully electric vehicle, a mild hybrid or a plug-in electric. I see every manufacturer coming up with some kind of solution.”
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the industry may not be able to evolve towards electrification as quickly as various levels of government would like.
“The big challenge is government intervention, especially zero-emission vehicle mandates that we have in Quebec, B.C. and now the federal government is stepping in,” Laframboise explains. “Setting goals that are unattainable is a problem. The government thinks that by 2040 every car sold in Canada will be electric. I think that’s very ambitious, but I don’t think they’ve done enough research to find out whether that’s feasible, and I think it’s going to be very disruptive to the industry.”
Like many industry experts, Laframboise doesn’t believe fully electric vehicles are the answer for every part of the market. “In Canada, we travel great distances,” he argues. “Electric cars are good for urban areas and short trips, but if you want to drive from Toronto to Montreal, it’s not a really practical way to travel.
“We have a lot of people who drive from Toronto to Florida in two days. That same trip in an electric vehicle would take four days because you have to stop and charge the car.”
Mergers & partnerships
With the government pushing for an electric future, and manufacturers struggling to figure out the “how” part of the equation, Laframboise believes we’ll see more collaboration in the industry in the very near future.
“I think you’ll see companies not necessarily merging, but working in partnership to pay for the technological advancements necessary,” he says. “You’ll see more sharing of technologies, especially in the next 10 years.
“You look at companies that don’t have an electric solution today, that are fairly small players in the market. They have to find somebody to partner with, like we have with the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.”
The dealership model
Finally, Laframboise offers Canadian dealers a bit of advice. “Dealers are hesitant to change their sales habits, but the reality is that the young people they’re hiring are no longer interested in investing 60 hours a week and getting paid on commission after talking to 10 people and selling two cars. That’s just not their makeup.
“It’s really difficult to find salespeople willing to work that way, and I think there’s going to have to be a change. Dealers need to look at hiring good people who will be portfolio managers. They’ll take the customer from sales right through to the service experience and even through to the renewal process. That’s the future.”