Currently part of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, the Mitsubishi group produced its first automobile in 1917. Initially, the company founded by Yataro Iwasaki had shipbuilding as its core business. The very first car was based on Fiat Tipo 3, but the hand-built seven-seater proved too expensive compared to its European and American rivals and was discontinued in 1921.
In 1934, Mitsubishi Shipbuilding was merged with the Mitsubishi Aircraft Co., a company established in 1920 to manufacture aircraft engines. The unified company was known as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), and was at the time the largest private company in Japan. In 1937, Mitsubishi was the first Japanese manufacturer to use four wheel drive on a car, although it was a prototype for military use, the PX33.
After the Second World War, Mitsubishi returned to producing civilian vehicles. The family-owned group was split in three, following a decision made by the Allied Powers. These companies imported and assembled American vehicles at first, but in the 1950s started producing their own designs.
In order to access the American and European markets, Mitsubishi developed an alliance with Chrysler in 1971. It proved efficient at first, although later tensions emerged.
The partnership was terminated twenty years later. By this time, Mitsubishi was an established producer with over one million cars sold worldwide thanks in good part to the success of its off-road vehicles, such as the Pajero.
The Japanese car manufacturer is also well-known for its success in the World Rally Championship.