Mitsubishi taps product planning exec to chair lagging N.A. unit
LOS ANGELES -- Mitsubishi Motors Corp. is tapping the head of corporate product strategy, cost control and purchasing to serve as the new chairman of the automaker's struggling North American business unit.
Gayu Uesugi, an executive vice president and board member of Mitsubishi Motors, will take over as chairman of Mitsubishi Motors North America on Thursday. Uesugi, 60, will be charged with overseeing the development of a profitable product plan and growth strategy for the U.S. market, Mitsubishi CEO Osamu Masuko said in a statement.
Uesugi most recently oversaw product strategy and development, cost control and procurement as the head officer of Mitsubishi's product projects and strategy group, according to the statement.
He played a major role in crafting Mitsubishi's current product strategy that has produced profitable growth in emerging markets including Russia, China and Thailand, the company said Monday.
Mitsubishi hopes Uesugi will parlay that experience into a turnaround in the United States, where the company's sales this year through September have declined 30 percent while the overall market has expanded 15 percent.
Mitsubishi hasn't had a chairman for North America since 2007.
Yoichi Yokozawa will continue to serve as CEO of Mitsubishi Motors North America, a position he's held since March 2011.
Under Uesugi, Mitsubishi will also "begin a new initiative to further revitalize" its U.S. manufacturing plant in Normal, Ill., Masuko said in the statement.
A Mitsubishi spokesman was unable to elaborate on the factory project.
The company is racing to boost overseas production and parts procurement to shield itself from currency exchange rates that undermine the profitability of Japan-made vehicles. Mitsubishi began assembling the Outlander Sport compact crossover at the Illinois plant in July. The company initially plans to build 50,000 units of the Outlander Sport annually, half for sale in North America and half for export.
Mitsubishi sold 46,122 vehicles in the United States during the first nine months of the year, down from 65,875 last year. The lower sales volume is largely due to the phase out of the Galant sedan, Endeavor crossover, Eclipse Coupe and Spyder during the last year.
Demand for the Lancer compact car, Mitsubishi's best-selling nameplate in the U.S. market, is also down 21 percent from last year. The Outlander Sport compact crossover has been Mitsubishi's only vehicle to see sales increase in 2012, eeking out a 5 percent gain through September, to 13,126 units.
Scott Grove, a Mitsubishi dealer with two stores in the Chicago suburbs and chairman of the brand's national dealer council, said Uesugi's appointment was good news for dealers because of the new chairman's product experience, and his continuing role inside Mitsubishi headquarters in Japan.
U.S. a priority
If Uesugi can make the U.S. market more of a priority at headquarters, that's a good thing, he said.
"I like this because this brings someone who appears to have been a driving force (in Mitsubishi's global strategy) and brings some marching orders to our product plan and growth," Grove said.
Uesugi joined Mitsubishi in 1977 as product development engineer. He's since held a variety of product development and engineering management roles at the company.
He is a a graduate of Shizuoka University in Japan with a master's degree in engineering.
Earlier Tuesday, Mitsubishi released financial results that further underscore the company's weakening position in North America.
Mitsubishi lost $14.5 million in North America in its second fiscal quarter ending Sept. 30, vs. a year-earlier profit of $29.3 million, as revenues fell 39 percent to $419.4 million.
Since April, Mitsubishi's U.S. dealership count has dropped to 386 from 397 a year earlier, its market share fell to 0.4 percent from 0.71 percent, and the percentage of nonfleet sales that were financed by Mitsubishi's finance arm slipped to 30 percent from 36 percent.
Mitsubishi didn't release detailed financial results for the latest quarter. Rather, it released figures for its fiscal first half, ended Sept. 30. Automotive News calculated the second-quarter results by comparing first-half numbers with first-quarter results.
James B. Treece contributed to this report
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