TOKYO -- Mitsubishi Motors Corp. is the latest Japanese automaker to predict it will finish the year with higher output despite shutting plants after the March earthquake in Japan.
President Osamu Masuko, in giving his company's annual outlook, said global production is expected to climb 6 percent to 1.17 million units in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2012.
The upbeat outlook follows a similar projection by Toyota Motor Corp., which said last week that its global output would advance 0.6 percent to 7.39 million units, despite closing plants for weeks after the 9.0-magnitude March 11 earthquake hammered Japan's automotive supply chain.
But unlike Toyota, which predicts a 31 percent drop in net income this year, Mitsubishi predicts its net income will improve 28 percent to 20.0 billion yen ($249.2 million). It sees sales rising to 1.173 million vehicles, from 1.045 million units worldwide in the fiscal year ended March 31.
With most of its operations in central Japan away from the quake's northeastern epicenter, Mitsubishi emerged from the disaster as one of the country's least-damaged automakers.
North America loss
Domestic output in April was only 62 percent of Mitsubishi's original plan. But it was 110 percent by May and expected to climb to 115 percent this month, Masuko said. Japan output will be further ramped up in the second half starting Oct. 1 to recoup all lost production.
Overseas output is exceeding pre-quake plans and seen rising 10 percent for the year.
Still, Mitsubishi expects a 6 billion yen ($74.7 million) hit in earthquake costs.
In North America, Mitsubishi's smallest market, the company expects sales to increase 15 percent to 108,000 units in the current fiscal year. Mitsubishi aims to lift U.S. sales to 73,000 units, from 62,000 last year, helped by the introduction of the Outlander Sport crossover.
But despite the rosy outlook, North America will remain in the red.
Mitsubishi says the region's operating loss will widen to 33.0 billion yen ($411.2 million) in the current fiscal year, from a 27.9 billion yen ($347.6 million) loss a year earlier.
The region is projected to be Mitsubishi's worst performing, due partly to its underused assembly plant in Normal, Ill., which is being retooled to make the Outlander Sport.
Separately, Masuko said his company will introduce a less expensive entry-level version of its i-MiEV electric vehicle in Japan. The car is expected to arrive this summer and a range around 120 kilometers (75 miles) on a full charge and cost less than 2 million yen ($25,000).
That version will sell alongside the current model, which has a bigger battery to get a range of 160 kilometers (100 miles). That variant sells for 2.98 million yen ($37,100) in Japan.
There are no plans yet to sell the entry-level i-MiEV in the United States. A beefed-up version of the original is slated to go on sale there in November. Mitsubishi says it has taken 300 U.S. orders for the car between April's New York motor show and June 9.
Since the i-MiEV's Japan sales debut in July 2009, Mitsubishi has sold nearly 10,000 globally: 4,000 units in Japan and 5,800 in Europe, where many are rebadged by PSA Peugeot Citroen.