Isuzu hikes U.S. diesel output

Partner GM likely will share new engines

TOKYO - Isuzu Motors Ltd. will quadruple diesel-engine production in the United States over the next four years and introduce two new engines there for both Isuzu and General Motors vehicles, Isuzu's senior executive disclosed last week.

In an interview with Automotive News, Isuzu President Yoshinori Ida said the struggling truckmaker will boost output at its DMAX Ltd. joint venture in Moraine, Ohio, to 400,000 units a year by 2005, from about 100,000 this year. Isuzu owns DMAX jointly with GM, which also owns 49 percent of Isuzu.

Two new diesels will go into production there: a 3.0-liter-class direct-injection, four-cylinder and a V-6 of unspecified displacement. The four-cylinder powerplant will be used in the Isuzu Rodeo and in an unspecified GM sport-utility as well, Ida said. He declined to specify whether GM sport-utilities or pickups might use the new V-6.

A GM spokesman said the automaker is not aware of any plan to expand the plant or add the two diesel engines.

"I'm confident our engines will make American customers say, 'Oh, I didn't know diesel engines are as great as this,'" Ida said. The full interview will be published in the Dec. 24 issue of Automotive News.

The four-cylinder turbodiesel will be compact and offer high performance, good fuel economy and lower emissions, Ida said. It is expected to deliver more than 47 mpg.

In addition, Isuzu will try to turn around its slumping sport-utility fortunes in America with new models.

At the Detroit auto show in January, Isuzu will showcase two concepts derived from the Axiom: a sporty convertible version and a trucklike model with a larger payload.

Focus on South, West

Isuzu also is reworking its marketing approach to the U.S. market. Stepping away from nationwide marketing, it will focus its sales and marketing efforts in the Southeast and West, emphasizing states such as Florida, Georgia and Texas, where its sport-utilities are most popular.

The diesel joint venture, though, is the linchpin of Isuzu's plans to reverse its mounting losses

In the fiscal first half that ended Sept. 30, Isuzu's operating losses in North America widened to 5.72 billion, or about $44.9 million at current exchange rates, from $39.1 million a year ago.

In the same period, DMAX generated $8.4 million in operating profits, swinging from a year-earlier loss of $19.5 million.

Isuzu expects DMAX to earn $20.9 million to $25.1 million, or roughly 10 percent of Isuzu's total projected consolidated operating profit worldwide, in the full year through March.

Ida said Isuzu plans to add the four-cylinder engine to the plant's lineup in time to meet increased demand from GM.

V-6 diesel being developed

The V-6 diesel will come later. It is still under development in Japan.

Isuzu will use the new diesels before GM. Before it supplies the direct-injection, four-cylinder engines to GM, Isuzu plans to install them in its U.S.-built Rodeo, probably coming around 2004.

Ida said the new diesels would meet U.S. diesel emissions regulations scheduled to go into effect in 2004. Ida hopes to sell more than 10,000 diesel-powered Rodeos a year in North America. Initially, their engines will be imported from Japan.

Isuzu will have the capacity to build production versions of its Axiom concepts after it stops supplying Honda Motor Co. with the Passport sport-utility. Honda will not offer a Passport in the 2003 model year.

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