WASHINGTON - Improvements at Mitsubishi's U.S. assembly plant will help it earn the job of building a new car-based sport-utility in 2003, said the man charged with overhauling the factory.
Richard Gilligan, just 11 months into his position as COO of Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America Inc. in Normal, Ill., told Washington-based automotive writers last week that the plant is ahead of schedule for some of its targets.
It has eliminated 700 of 3,900 jobs and cut the average number of freshly built vehicles needing repair by 58 percent. The plant also has reduced costs by $100 million in the past 12 months, about a year ahead of schedule.
Gilligan said gains in quality and productivity likely will be factors when parent company Mitsubishi Motors Corp. makes a final decision soon on building the 2003 successor to the Montero Sport. That move isn't official, but Mitsubishi Motors President Katsuhiko Kawasoe told U.S. dealers in July that assembly of the vehicle in Normal was a certainty. Gilligan confirmed publicly for the first time last week that the sport-utility will be based on the next Galant and Eclipse platform.
The Normal plant has capacity to build 240,000 vehicles a year. It currently is producing about 160,000 Galants, Eclipses, Chrysler Sebrings and Dodge Avengers annually. Gilligan, a former employee of Ford Motor Co., said the Normal plant has more improvements to make. It has reduced worker hours per vehicle from 39 to under 29, but that is still above the industry average of 25.