LOS ANGELES -- Mitsubishi will stop building Chrysler group vehicles at its plant in Normal, Ill., after 2005 to free up capacity for redesigned vehicles the company is counting on to boost U.S. sales.
"There are no current plans to build Chrysler group products immediately after that, but that could change," says Pierre Gagnon, CEO of Mitsubishi Motors North America.
Chrysler cars were first assembled in Normal in 1989, so the departure of the Chrysler Sebring coupe and the Dodge Stratus coupe would end a long relationship between the two companies in Normal.
Ironically, the departures are planned as Mitsubishi and Chrysler build a closer product-development and manufacturing relationship. They are jointly developing many small and mid-sized cars, including the next-generation Dodge Neon and Stratus and Chrysler Sebring.
Filling the plant isn't a problem.
Although Mitsubishi's U.S. sales have slipped badly this year, a DaimlerChrysler product-development executive says Mitsubishi can fill the Normal plant with its own vehicles.
Michael Wenners, who works in Tokyo, projects the company can build and sell at least 100,000 Galants, 80,000 to 85,000 Endeavors and 75,000 of the two Eclipse models annually.
"So there's about 300,000 units there," Wenners says. He is strategic project leader for the PS platform, which includes the Galant, Endeavor, Eclipse and Eclipse Spyder.
Mitsubishi broke ground on a $200 million expansion of the plant in April to boost capacity from 240,000 to 300,000.
The Endeavor SUV was introduced this year; a redesigned Galant goes on sale at the end of October; and the Eclipse will be redesigned as a 2006 model. The three models are built on the mid-sized Project America platform Mitsubishi introduced for the 2004 model year.
The 2006 Sebring and Stratus will move to a smaller platform being developed jointly by Mitsubishi and Chrysler, say supplier and industry sources.
The Chrysler group's Sterling Heights, Mich., assembly plant builds the Stratus and the Sebring sedans and the Sebring convertible. It is not clear which variants of the redesigned 2006 Sebring and Stratus the company will continue to market. A Chrysler spokesman declined to comment on its plans.
The Normal plant operated as a joint venture of Chrysler Corp. and Mitsubishi called Diamond-Star Motors Corp. until 1991 when Mitsubishi purchased Chrysler's share. Production peaked in 2000 at 221,975. Last year, the plant produced 202,611 units.