TOKYO -- Mitsubishi Motors Corp. President Osamu Masuko expects the company to reverse its steady decline in the United States and eventually reach 200,000 sales a year -- or roughly four times today's level.
And he insists Mitsubishi won't pull out of the U.S. market.
"People have been asking me for the past six years whether Mitsubishi's going to withdraw from the market," Masuko said in an interview last week. "But it never enters my mind."
He acknowledged that the Japanese carmaker has fallen hard since U.S. sales peaked at 354,111 vehicles in 2002. Mitsubishi's U.S. sales are off about 4 percent to 36,431 units through August in an overall market up 8 percent this year.
For the current fiscal year that ends March 31, 2011, Mitsubishi wants U.S. sales of 68,000, up from 54,000 last year. Masuko said sales should rise again next year, aided by the introduction of the new Outlander Sport crossover.
"My personal opinion is that in the United States, I don't know how many years it would take, but our target could be around 200,000 units," he said.
Mitsubishi's rapid expansion in the early 2000s was fueled by 0 percent financing. A more rapid plunge in sales, spurred by the global financial crisis, has prompted analysts to wonder whether Mitsubishi might be the next Japanese carmaker to pull out of the United States.
"We have never thought about withdrawing from the U.S. market, and we will not do so," Masuko said.
The company needs more disciplined incentives to build sales gradually, he said.
Mitsubishi's average incentives came down roughly $270 per vehicle in the April-June quarter but still were above $3,000, he said. For the full fiscal year, Masuko said, the automaker's average annual incentive should go below $3,000.
Mitsubishi will unveil a midterm business plan, probably in November, and provide a detailed forecast for its U.S. operations. The company also will outline a plan to revive its underused assembly plant in Normal, Ill., Masuko said. It may entail a new model or platform to be built there.