Coming off its first profitable year since 1987, Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America Inc. expects to hit another milestone in 1999: selling 200,000 vehicles.
Mitsubishi last broke 200,000 in 1994.
'1998 was probably our best year ever,' said Pierre Gagnon, who has been COO of the company since December 1997.
Gagnon said dealers at the make meeting were more optimistic than last year about the company's prospects.
'The dealers told us (Mitsubishi) has been through a lot of changes and they support the changes. But we need to communicate those changes better,' he said.
Gagnon is confident the company can sell 200,000 vehicles in 1999, up from 190,555 in 1998, because of the strength of Mitsubishi's three core products: the Galant, Eclipse and Montero Sport.
Mitsubishi launched the redesigned Galant in mid-1998 and will introduce a redesigned Eclipse this September. Additionally, the 2000 Montero Sport will be freshened, he said.
Mitsubishi sold 44,202 Galants in 1998. For 1999, the first full year for the redesigned vehicle, Gagnon wants to sell 50,000 to 60,000 Galants. Mitsubishi is supporting the Galant with a renewed national ad campaign, which began last week.
Some dealers have been concerned that Mitsubishi's focus on its three core vehicles will leave the company's other vehicles high and dry. Gagnon said he has the same concern, but not enough resources are available to get behind the Diamante, Mirage and full-sized Montero sport-utility.
'Diamante is our highest quality car and nobody knows about it,' he said.
Joseph O'Brien, owner of five Mitsubishi dealerships in Illinois and Florida, believes a bigger ad budget could do wonders for Mitsubishi.
'They've got a good presence on the street. ... They just aren't on everyone's buyer consideration list,' O'Brien said.
Mitsubishi is trying to change that with its 'Wake Up and Drive' campaign. Last year it spent more on advertising than ever before. Gagnon said this year's ad budget will be slightly higher.
Gagnon also addressed troubles at Mitsubishi's parent company, Mitsubishi Motors Corp. The Japanese company has been wracked by debt and is the focus of merger rumors.
The parent company is looking at strategic alliances around the world, he said. 'We don't have a merger strategy.'
Gagnon added: 'We've made a commitment to the U.S. market and we're going to stay.'