Mitsubishi Motors was founded in 1970 when it split from the larger Mitsubishi keiretsu industrial group's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The company's first automobile was built in 1917, but it didn't enter the United States until 1971, when the company forged a relationship with Chrysler and began rebadging the Mitsubishi Galant as the Dodge Colt for U.S. sales – later rebranding it as the new Challenger. The Mitsubishi name itself is a combination of mitsu ("three") and hishi (used to denote a "diamond" shape).

When Chrysler entered financial trouble in the early 1980s, Mitsubishi purchased its Australian division and then went independent on Chrysler in U.S. sales in 1982. Still partnered with Chrysler, the two companies opened a shared manufacturing facility in Normal, Illinois that would eventually become Mitsubishi's primary production facility for North American sales. Mitsubishi's partnership with Chrysler lasted until 1991, though the two shared contractual agreements for components and manufacturing.

Market and financial troubles in the early 2000s mean that Mitsubishi has had to rethink its strategy, removing slow-selling vehicles from the U.S. and other markets and refocusing its brand strategy. It has since won accolades for its design prowess in new vehicles such as the Outlander crossover and its i-MiEV electric car.

Mitsubishi is well-known for its long series of wins in the gruelling Dakar Rally, winning several of them during the 1990s and seven consecutive victories from 2001 to 2007, making Mitsubishi the most successful manufacturer in the history of Dakar. Mitsubishi is also well-known for its three decade association with multinational actor Jackie Chan, whose movies almost exclusively feature the company's vehicles.

In all, Mitsubishi sells vehicles in over 160 countries worldwide and manufactures in six countries, including the United States.