Mitsubishi's N.A. chairman faces U.S. product-planning challenge
Gayu Uesugi: Mitsubishi chose the product planner to develop a U.S. growth strategy and help “revitalize” its plant in Illinois.
LOS ANGELES -- It's difficult to overstate the challenge ahead of Gayu Uesugi, the Mitsubishi Motors Corp. board member and product planner who last week was appointed chairman of the automaker's struggling North American unit.
Through October, Mitsubishi's U.S. sales are down 29 percent. The company's U.S. vehicle lineup has about half as many nameplates as it did at this time last year. Meanwhile, the company's operating losses in North America continue to mount.
"With his involvement in MMC's global product plan, Uesugi has successfully achieved profitable growth in emerging markets," said Osamu Masuko, Mitsubishi Motors president. "Uesugi's new role will include leadership in developing a product plan and growth strategy for the U.S. market."
Uesugi, 60, a career product planner and engineer, was a driving force behind Mitsubishi's global product plan, according to a former company insider.
That plan, announced in early 2011, called for the global launch of five plug-in hybrid and three electric vehicles by the end of 2015. It also called for global sales of the Mirage small car, which went on sale outside the U.S. market earlier this year and was designed primarily to be basic transportation for consumers in emerging markets.
But small cars and electrics appear unlikely to turn around Mitsubishi's struggles in the United States. The company's first electric vehicle -- the Mitsubishi i -- has been a flop in the United States, with fewer than 500 units sold through October.
A redesigned Outlander compact crossover is due out early next year followed by a plug-in hybrid Outlander next summer.
But the crossover and plug-in hybrid will be hard-pressed to replace the volume of the Galant sedan, Endeavor crossover, Eclipse Coupe and Spyder convertible, which have been phased out in the United States over the past year -- especially considering the tepid demand for vehicles powered by advanced batteries.
Mitsubishi's U.S. lineup has been reduced to the i, the imported Lancer compact car, the Outlander and the Outlander Sport, a shortened version of the Outlander, which Mitsubishi began assembling at its plant in Normal, Ill., in July.
The company plans to build 50,000 units of the Outlander Sport annually, half for sale in North America and half for export.
Under Uesugi, Mitsubishi also will "begin a new initiative to further revitalize" the plant in Normal, Masuko said in the statement. Details on the plans for Normal were not available from the automaker.
Meanwhile, the company is racing to boost sales in emerging markets and shift more production and parts procurement outside Japan to shield itself from currency exchange rates that undermine the profitability of Japan-made vehicles.
Yoichi Yokozawa will continue to work as CEO of Mitsubishi Motors North America, a position he has held since March 2011.
A spokesman said Mitsubishi has not had a chairman for North America since 2007.
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