A new Diamante for Mitsubishi?

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TOKYO -- Could Mitsubishi be bringing back a luxury sedan in the vein of the Diamante?

According to published reports, the troubled automaker plans to sell a rebadged version of the Infiniti M, that brand’s top tier model, in Japan to fill Mitsubishi’s long-running gap in premium offerings.

The plan is under study. But in an interview last month, Mitsubishi President Osamu Masuko denied Mitsubishi would leverage OEM manufacturing deals to flesh out its U.S. lineup.

That goes for large luxury cars as well as pickups, he said.

Mitsubishi is shifting to smaller cars because its bigger ones don’t sell well, he added. Plus, exporting a vehicle from Japan makes little sense given the yen’s climb against the dollar.

Still, turning to Nissan for a luxury offering is an intriguing idea. Mitsubishi’s Galant, the model most passable as upper crust, is a slow seller not so much because of its size. The Galant is slow because it’s, well, the Galant -- an aging, humdrum dog that has outlived its appeal.

Mitsubishi has already announced it will phase out the car by 2013.

Diamante sales peaked at 25,267 in 1993 but dipped below 10,000 before Mitsubishi decided in 2004 to kill it. Mitsubishi froze luxury development in the mid-2000s because of financial woes.

But with the Infiniti M, Mitsubishi wouldn’t have to worry about costly r&d. That model, sold as the Nissan Fuga in Japan, is Nissan Motor Co.’s top-shelf flagship, and it is fresh off a full model change in late 2009. Plus, the Infiniti M has a new hybrid variant.

It’s tempting to wonder if that might emerge as the mysterious hybrid vehicle Mitsubishi plans to introduce in 2013.

According to Japan’s Nikkei business daily, the Mitsubishi-badged Fuga could go on sale in Japan as early as this year.

You can reach Hans Greimel at hgreimel@crain.com. -- Follow Hans on Twitter

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