Mitsubishi is close to filling two key executive vacancies that have opened in its U.S. operations.
The changes come as Mitsubishi Motors North America Inc. is under pressure from management in Japan to improve sales. One of the U.S. unit's priorities is to change its advertising agency.
John Koenig, head of operations at Mitsubishi Motors North America, left March 1 to devote time to a legal battle with the city of Laguna Beach, Calif., that is related to the death of his son.
Frances Oda, the marketing vice president, also has left the company. Her job is being filled on an interim basis by Don Swearingen, Mitsubishi's vice president of fixed operations.
Mitsubishi spokesman Maurice Durand said the company could announce replacements for Koenig and Oda by the end of this month.
Mitsubishi's U.S. sales fell 45 percent in 2009 to 53,986 vehicles and are down 11 percent for the first two months of this year.
Dealers say they have been encouraged by improved sales for Mitsubishi's smaller products, including the Lancer and Outlander crossover. But the U.S.-built Galant sedan, Endeavor crossover and Eclipse sports car are aging, and Mitsubishi has not signaled any plan to invest in its Normal, Ill., factory to replace them.
Oda recently called for proposals for an ad agency to replace Traffic, which Mitsubishi retained less than two years ago to handle national advertising. A change would be the automaker's third switch in its national agency since 2005.
Advertising has been a problem area. The company has cut deeply into national ad spending over the past two years. At the Los Angeles auto show in December, a group of U.S. dealers appealed to top Mitsubishi officials to resume national spending.
Last month, Chicago area retailer Scott Grove, chairman of the Mitsubishi National Dealer Advisory Board, said dealers were encouraged by what he characterized as a new commitment by the automaker to step up advertising spending.
Koenig, 63, said Mitsubishi officials in Japan have been pressing for rapid improvement in the United States.
"There were some frustrations there, but that's not the reason I left," he said. "After my son's death, I've had very little motivation to work."
Colby Koenig, 25, was shot by Laguna Beach police after being involved in a rush-hour accident Jan. 12. Witnesses told the media that an injured Koenig appeared to be attempting to flee the accident when police opened fire. Koenig said the incident is under investigation. No lawsuit has been filed against the city.