TOKYO - Mitsubishi Motors Corp. is calling on the world's automakers to adopt a more open approach to the development of fuel-cell vehicles.
Akira Kijima, deputy corporate general manager of the car research and development center, said fuel-cell research by companies such as Ballard Research should be under the control of a third party - an association or government department - so that there are no secrets.
'This knowledge should be shared by the world, or there is no future for the world,' said Kijima. He said he wants the same sort of openness as Mitsubishi has adopted with its direct-injection technology.
Kijima said he believes electric vehicles are the industry's future but vowed that Mitsubishi would be ready with a fuel-cell vehicle by 2005. Mitsubishi Motors is working with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which already makes fuel cells for power generating plants.
Although a fuel-cell-powered vehicle could be ready in four to five years, a more realistic time scale would be up to 20 years, said Kijima. This is because of the need to develop the infrastructure and overcome customer resistance.
GDI becomes core engine
Meanwhile, the gasoline direct injection, or GDI, engine has become the core engine in the company's lineup. Eighty percent of the engines it produces in Japan are now GDI. Both PSA/Peugeot Citroen and Volvo Car Corp. are adapting Mitsubishi's GDI technology to their own power units. Through Volvo, Mitsubishi also is talking to Ford about the use of GDI.
Discussions also continue with Fiat Auto, Kijima said. The talks almost certainly will result in Fiat buying complete mid- to large-sized GDI engines, he said.
'This is still a transitional phase of development, and you must look at the overall picture and potential of the technology,' he said. 'Our system has been criticized for being complicated to produce, but you can always criticize new technology if you don't intend to use it. Time will resolve this issue. We are getting more and more confident of our approach and we're sure we're on the right track.'
Stronger sales in Europe, U.S.
Mitsubishi Motors President Katsuhiko Kawasoe told reporters the automaker had turned a corner this year with the help of better sales in North America and Europe.
'I believe that we have successfully taken the first confident steps in a major transformation necessary for us to continue as an auto manufacturer with a meaningful presence in the 21st century,' he said.
'In the United States, both our production and sales operations moved into the black in fiscal 1998. We are currently working to run these operations on a more unified basis in order to strengthen them and to make more effective use of management resources.'
In Europe, said Kawasoe, the sales target for next year is 340,000 units, driven mainly by the three European-built models - the Space Star, Carisma and Pajero Pinin.
In Japan, he said, the company was forecasting a weak market recovery in the second half of the year.
There is little doubt that Mitsubishi has become a much more focused company during Kawasoe's first two years at the helm. Technology drives the company, and its lineup at the Tokyo Motor Show demonstrated its desire to stick to what it does best: sport-utilities.
In a show largely devoid of totally new models, Mitsubishi did at least have the all-new Pajero at center stage.
Both short- and long-wheelbase versions are available with a choice of 3.2-liter direct-injection diesel (four-cylinder, 16-valve with intercooler turbocharger) or 3.5-liter V-6 GDI engine. The diesel generates 129 hp, while the gasoline engine offers 162 hp.+
GDI becomes core engine 'The situation remains unpredictable, however, because in-creased production at our facilities in other countries is reducing exports from Japan, and because of the recent strengthening of the Japanese yen.'