TOKYO -- Mitsubishi Motors Corp.'s newly named president pledged to keep the Japanese carmaker in the United States and said he would keep pursuing his predecessor's strategy of focusing on electrified drivetrains and SUVs.
Tetsuro Aikawa, who assumes the presidency and the COO title in June, said the company will keep manufacturing at its Normal, Ill., assembly plant and boost the company's U.S. sales by introducing crossovers, such as the Outlander Plug-in Hybrid, expected in showrooms next year.
"The tough conditions are continuing," Aikawa said. "But little by little, sales are moving up."
Asked if Mitsubishi was considering pulling out of the United States, Aikawa said, "Absolutely not."
Mitsubishi's U.S. sales grew 8 percent last year to 62,227 vehicles, after hovering below 60,000 vehicles a year since 2009 except for a spike in 2011. During that period, U.S.-built models such as the Eclipse coupe, Endeavor crossover and Galant mid-sized sedan were phased out of the U.S. factory and lineup as the company scaled back on regional vehicle platforms in favor of vehicles it could sell worldwide, such as the Outlander Sport.
Under the management shuffle, current president Osamu Masuko, 64, who led Mitsubishi to record profits after its breakup with then-DaimlerChrysler and a series of scandals, will become chairman, replacing Takashi Nishioka. He will continue to oversee broad strategy.
In addition, Ryujiro Kobashi, 54, will become CEO of Mitsubishi Motors North America on March 1, replacing Yoichi Yokozawa, 49, who will be reassigned to a corporate planning post at headquarters in Japan. Kobashi was most recently corporate general manager of the North America office at Mitsubishi headquarters in Japan.
Aikawa, 59, aims to develop new product, improve quality, introduce technology and enliven design and styling.
Mitsubishi had its r&d ranks hollowed out after the 2004 breakup with DaimlerChrysler, Aikawa said. That, combined with a scandal over defect cover-ups, led more than 10 percent of the company's engineers to leave within the span of half a year, hobbling future product plans, he said.
Of his 36 years at Mitsubishi, Aikawa said, "That was the toughest period."
Aikawa said he aims to restore Mitsubishi's reputation as a technology leader. That will hinge on leveraging its strength in electric and hybrid vehicles and SUVs.
He also wants a rebirth in design, an area in which Mitsubishi has languished. Said Aikawa: "Through technology and design, I want to reconstruct the Mitsubishi brand."
Aikawa studied marine engineering at the prestigious University of Tokyo and joined the company in 1978. Insiders say he was marked for quick promotion because his father had been president of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., the automaker's former parent.
Aikawa stepped out of his father's shadow by leading development of the eK Wagon, a Japan-market minicar that debuted in 2001 and became a sales success. He later took the lead in Mitsubishi's i minicar and was the champion behind its electric version, which has enjoyed good sales as the iMiEV in Japan. But sold as the i in the United States, it has flopped.
Aikawa also has worked in domestic sales and manufacturing. In Japan, he has a reputation of listening to dealers and responding to their input. Since 2011, he has been a managing director in charge of the global production group, overseeing the realignment of Mitsubishi's U.S. and Japanese plants.