Mitsubishi retools flagship Japan plant before hybrid push

The Okazaki plant produces the Outlander PHEV. Renovations are expected to help the plant churn out more plug-in hybrids.

Photo credit: BLOOMBERG
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TOKYO -- Mitsubishi Motors Corp. is overhauling its flagship assembly plant in Japan to slash production costs and boost capacity as it readies for increased output of plug-in hybrid vehicles.

The renovations at Mitsubishi's Okazaki plant in central Japan aim to cut the cost of body assembly 30 percent, while boosting capacity there 10 percent to 230,000 vehicles.

The retooling began in January and will run through next May, spokesman Tetsuji Inoue said. The changes will better accommodate Mitsubishi's shift toward electrified vehicles by allowing battery installation along the main line.

Mitsubishi also will be able churn out more plug-in hybrids, output of which has been limited by capacity constraints.

The makeover includes switching to a floor conveyor system for the main line, from a hanging line in which cars dangle overhead. Floor conveyors allow better fine-tuning of production speed to meet increases and decreases in demand, Inoue said.

The factory will introduce a system in which all the parts needed for a given vehicle are packaged together and travel alongside the vehicle for easy access along the line. It also will add more robot-driven trolleys that ferry parts.

The ¥4.5 billion ($44.3 million) investment aims to improve Mitsubishi's cost base as it embarks on a new product strategy that hinges heavily on pricey plug-in hybrid vehicles.

The Okazaki plant is the mother plant for the Outlander PHEV crossover and future electrified vehicles.

In the current fiscal year that began April 1, Okazaki is expected to produce 86,000 standard Outlanders, 50,000 plug-in Outlanders and 76,000 Outlander Sport compact crossovers.

Mitsubishi's finances are rebounding from years of losses to record profits because of favorable currency rates and a restructuring plan set in place by then-President Osamu Masuko, who became chairman in June. Under a three-year business plan Masuko unveiled in November, Mitsubishi will refocus its lineup on utility vehicles and electrified drivetrains.

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


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