Mitsubishi outlines new U.S. comeback plan
U.S. strategy keys: 3 new vehicles, higher local output
Photo credit: HANS GREIMEL
TOKYO -- Mitsubishi Motors Corp. has had a dismal year.
Its U.S. lineup dropped four mainstay vehicles, U.S. sales have plunged 29 percent, market share has shriveled to 0.4 percent from 0.7 percent and it is tied with Fiat for the industry's most unsold inventory at a 133-day supply as of Nov. 1.
Moreover, its i electric vehicle, envisioned as a halo car to tout Mitsubishi's advanced technology, is a flop.
But President Osamu Masuko isn't discouraged. He has a U.S. comeback plan that aims to boost sales 45 percent to 80,000 units in the next fiscal year, from a projected 55,000 in the one ending March 31.
Masuko wants to pump up Mitsubishi's eviscerated lineup with two new vehicles next year and a third in 2014, and ramp up local production.
He has appointed a new North American boss and is targeting annual sales of 100,000 as early as 2014. Above all, Masuko says, Mitsubishi has no plans to follow fellow Japanese niche player Suzuki Motor Corp. in exiting U.S. auto sales.
"We have no intention whatsoever of withdrawing from the U.S. market," Masuko told Automotive News. "The U.S. market is a very important market."
Mitsubishi President Osamu Masuko’s U.S. comeback plan aims to boost sales 45 percent to 80,000 units in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2014.
The first step to rekindling growth is building the lineup.
Mitsubishi will start selling the redesigned Outlander crossover in the United States in July and begin importing the Mirage small car from Thailand in September, Masuko said. The plug-in hybrid version of the Outlander crossover will go on sale in the United States in January 2014, he said.
"What we have to do is to provide these dealers with attractive products," he said. "If you don't provide dealers attractive products, they are not going to invest in their dealerships."
Masuko's comments were Mitsubishi's first confirmation that the pint-sized Mirage hatchback would make it stateside. Masuko said the company had delayed a decision because brisk demand was causing supply constraints at its Thailand plant.
The plant is running "at full capacity of 150,000 units. And even at that level, it's not keeping up with orders," Masuko said. "So in mid next year, we are going to increase the capacity of the Thailand plant from 150,000 vehicles to 200,000 units."
Mitsubishi also plans to boost production at its Normal, Ill., plant that makes about 50,000 Outlander Sport small crossovers a year.
Masuko intends to increase output to 70,000 units next year, with production supporting increased exports to markets such as Russia, Latin America and the Middle East. "This was a very big decision for us," Masuko said. "We're going to have an export base in the United States."
Mitsubishi's U.S. sales fell 29 percent to 50,103 through October. Among Japanese brands, only Suzuki sold fewer.
Mitsubishi's U.S. sales slide follows the discontinuation of four main vehicles: the Eclipse coupe, Eclipse Spyder convertible, Galant sedan and Endeavor crossover.
To lead the rebound, Masuko last month named Gayu Uesugi chairman of Mitsubishi Motors North America.
The move was part of a new strategy to dedicate a board member to each of three critical regions where Mitsubishi aims to boost its business, Masuko said. The other regions, China and Japan, were assigned board members as lead troubleshooters.
Uesugi will give up his duties as head of product development, research and cost control to focus exclusively on North America, Masuko said. He will likely be based in Illinois to be close to Mitsubishi's factory.
Masuko also said the upcoming Mirage will get an electric vehicle variant. But that car is unlikely to make it to the United States, where the i has sold only 469 units through October, compared with earlier projections for 20,000 a year.
Mitsubishi has no plans for an EV successor to the i and will likely shift its focus toward plug-in and traditional hybrids.
"Rather than EVs," Masuko said, "we have greater expectations for plug-ins in the United States."
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