Here's Why Mitsubishi's Mirage Succeeded Where Chevy Spark Failed Despite Being Much Worse

When Chevy introduced the Spark in the U.S. a decade ago, GM was hoping it'd be like the second coming of the original Beetle. By the time it was announced that production of the Spark would end recently, it was out by something some argue was barely even trying.
Mirage and Spark 22 photos
Photo: Mitsubishi (outer image) Chevrolet (inner image)
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That's right, folks, General Motors is giving the ax to the Spark, a car GM doesn't plan to replace directly. This news comes only months after reports surfaced that the lowly, underpowered, and under-refined 1 Mitsubishi Mirage had beaten the Spark in the most recently available sales data in quarter three of 2021.

To say this report was the smoking gun that made GM lose faith in its decade-old subcompact would be a bit of a stretch. But as the American market shifts more and more away from sedans and hatchbacks, a recent slump was all the more reason to look elsewhere.

As you'll find, there was a multitude of different factors that caused the Spark to get the boot and the Mirage to unexpectedly shoot to the top of its class in sales. A series phenomenon that the Mitsubishi and GM respectively could have never anticipated.

Things started normally enough. The Spark entered the U.S. Domestic Market in the 2013 model year. The car started life as a concept car at the 2007 New York International Auto Show called the Beat. It would go on to have a successful tenure in the Southeast Asian Domestic Market as the Daewoo Matiz starting in 2009, predating its debut stateside by three years or so.

Chevy Spark
Photo: General Motors
The car retained the Beat name from the concept car in the Indian Market. GM hoped the Spark's refinement and better standard features than you'd expect to find would be a combination that sold like wildfire. With a peppy 100 or so horsepower four-cylinder engine under the hood, it was faster than the original Beetle, at the very least. Buyers likely cared more about the perpetually best in its class fuel economy. A figure matched only by the lowly Mirage.

Meanwhile, the Mitsubishi Mirage did not try to wow consumers with higher than average levels of technology, refinement, or any sort of exhilarating driving experience. Like the Spark, the Mirage cut its teeth in the burgeoning Southeast Asian Markets, under the Mirage moniker, but also the Space Star and the Attrage for the sedan variant.

The Mirage's 1.2-liter, three-cylinder 3A9 engine made a positively puny power figure between 70 and 76 horsepower, depending on the model year. In later models, this was upgraded to a positively face-melting figure of 78 rampaging stallions, still a full 20 horsepower less than the Spark. Where the Spark tried to wow buyers with tech and features, the Mirage simply aspired to be the most affordable, most efficient subcompact around, even if the interior quality feels like it's circa the year 2000 or something.

The most bare-bones, manual transmission-equipped, roll-down window sporting Mirages could be had for as little as $12,000 back in 2013. At a time when most new cars were twice as expensive or more, enough people were convinced to buy these plasticky, Thailand-assembled hatchbacks to stick around. Lasting for a scarcely believable entire decade and counting. How much of this longevity is due to Mitsubishi Motor's indifference to the U.S Market is up for debate; there's no arguing that, but the sales don't lie.

2021 Mitsubishi Mirage
Photo: Mitsubishi
Even so, the Mirage was like a metaphorical punching bag for just about every critic in the auto industry, an up-and-coming Doug DeMuro included. At least dear old Uncle Doug did admit he understood the Mirage's appeal as a very affordable brand-new car, even if the people commenting on the video couldn't be bothered to watch for long enough to hear him say it. Safe to say, the Mirage racked up one-star review after one-star review year after year. With the Mitsubishi brand crumbling around it, it remained as the sole surviving Mistibishi passenger car.

But then, the global health crisis changed everything. With factories sitting idle for months at a time, the global reserve of quality new and used cars started to shrink rapidly. The worldwide microchip shortage that followed the crisis only compounded problems. Suddenly, Honda Civics, Fits, Toyota Corollas, and Yaris economy cars in high demand were nowhere to be found in many parts of the country.

But while other car models, the Spark included, failed to be replenished, Mitsubishi Mirages that were ignored for so long suddenly became big money items for people who desperately needed something to drive. The proof in the pudding came when it was announced the Mirage had overtaken the Spark in sales data for the third quarter of 2021.

Some people reported paying a whopping $2,500 or more over sticker-price to get their hands on one. But when there isn't a new Corolla, Fit, or Versa for miles and miles in any direction, it was a loss that was worth taking. It sure beats buying a bad used car that pukes up its transmission a few months after you buy it. Only a few months later, the Spark had its plug pulled, seemingly for good.
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