This Cute Car Decal Was Apparently Hiding a Dark Secret

Turns out the "GDI Club" is not one you want to be in.

Japanese advertisements use English phrases and words all the time, sometimes to completely nonsensical effect. Toyota sold a version of its JDM-only Carina sedan called “Exciting Edition.” What the hell was so exciting about it? Y’all couldn’t have found a less awkward euphemism for a sporty car? Then again, Honda sold a kei car called the “That’s” in the early 2000s. Mitsubishi’s “GDI Club” decals seem like they might have been done in the same vein of randomness, but no, there’s more backstory to that one.

I saw a video from Japanesecarm on YouTube about Mitsubishi’s GDI Club. It was a 30-second ad for Japanese TV seemingly advertising the newfangled GDI (Gasoline Direct Injected) engines for early 2000s Mitsubishis. GDI tech is pretty ubiquitous now, but in the 1990s, Mitsubishi was the first (and only) manufacturer to have an electronically controlled GDI system. In the embedded ad, the GDI Club is on a Mitsubishi Dion — a small Lancer-based Minivan, only marketed in Japan.

The little “GDI Club” decal is charming, but odd to my western eyes. Sure, GDI tech was new, but did it need its own club, complete with a little shamrock-looking logo? Is there a VTEC society? An EcoBoost after-school association? Ha, I kid, but I actually liked the GDI Club sticker and I wanted to see if I could find one to stick on my car. Was the GDI Club some sort of program Mitsubishi offered to GDI-equipped owners? Or, was it just a marketing push for some new tech? I needed to know. To the internet, I went.

You don’t need to speak Japanese fluently to get the gist of the embedded ad, Mitsubishi was marketing its new GDI technology as new green tech. Just look; the happy labradoodle in the trunk, the hand-drawn shamrock logo, the blue skies. YouTube’s transcription and translation audio features are imperfect, but I could still parse out that Mitsubishi was saying GDI was “good for the environment.”

Except, those engines were not good for the environment. They weren’t clean at all and were apparently, in fact, unreliable. 

This Cute Car Decal Was Apparently Hiding a Dark Secret
Translated from Yahoo Answers Japan, the comments are full of complaints of old Mitsubishi GDI engines. Screenshot: Yahoo Answers Japan

Googling “GDI Club” brought some Japanese language car blogs, where internet denizens chatted about how unscrupulous Mitsubishi was back in the 2000s. From what I’ve been able to piece together, Mitsubishi was performing a sort of defacto recall on the vehicles, without issuing a proper recall notice with the Japanese government, or in some cases, not even telling the owners. It seems that Mitsubishi service technicians would stick a “GDI Club” on the back of the car, to let other technicians know that the soft recall procedure had been completed. This Japanese language blog gives a good synopsis, even when directly translated into English.

This Cute Car Decal Was Apparently Hiding a Dark Secret
Welp. Screenshot: Car-moby.jp

Well, it all came to a head in the 2000s, where it was revealed that Mitsubishi had been covering up quality issues and necessary recalls for decades. The scandal ruined Mitsubishi’s reputation in its home market of Japan, destroying sales, and one could argue this sent the company on its downtrend toward its current status of general irrelevance.

Reading on, it seems like the “GDI Club” sticker became a sort of honeypot for Mitsubishi’s woes in Japan. Suddenly, everyone knew that the “GDI Club” meant your car was dirty and unreliable. Mitsubishi killed its GDI engines in the mid-2000s. 

This Cute Car Decal Was Apparently Hiding a Dark Secret
Even well into 2013, people were still talking about Mitsubishi’s GDI club scandal. Screenshot: Yahoo Answers Japan

Unused GDI CLUB stickers sometimes show up on Japanese auction websites, but they aren’t cheap. An artist has even made a tongue-in-cheek response sticker NO GDI CLUB that they’ve been selling since 2012. 

Mitsubishi is no doubt keen to forget about this history, and it’s been doing a good job keeping it quiet — our editor and resident Mitsubishi owner Andrew Collins had never even heard of the GDI Club. In fact, there’s barely any English-language information about this scandal at all. Japanese people haven’t forgotten though, even the YouTube comments in the embedded video contain snarky comments.

Damn. I definitely still want one of those stickers, though. 

Kevin Williams
Kevin Williams

Kevin's been into cars his entire life, anything from the tiny kei cars in Japan, to the maybe not-so-good American barges of the 1980s. He's flipped more than 25 cars, only lost money twice, and has known how to make his dollar stretch as far as it can. If he ain't talking about cars, he's probably snacking on something sweet and cakey. Contact the author here.