TOKYO -- Suzuki Motor Corp.'s withdrawal from the U.S. auto market leaves struggling Mitsubishi Motor Corp. as the Japanese automaker with the fewest U.S. sales.
But Mitsubishi President Osamu Masuko today reiterated his commitment to the U.S. market, denying any plan to follow Suzuki's retreat.
"We have no intention whatsoever of withdrawing from the U.S. market," Masuko told Automotive News in an interview today. "The U.S. market is a very important market."
Through October, Mitsubishi's U.S. sales plunged 29 percent to 50,103 units, and its market share shriveled to 0.4 percent from 0.7 percent in the same period of 2011. Its dealers lead the industry in terms of backlogged inventory.
And in a U.S. market that advanced 14 percent in the first 10 months of the year, Mitsubishi posted the biggest percentage sales decline among automakers.
The automaker's U.S. sales peaked at 345,111 units in 2002.
Suzuki, which saw sales fall 5 percent to 21,188 units through October, is the only Japanese automaker with fewer sales than Mitsubishi. Suzuki said Monday that it is giving up on the U.S. auto market after nearly three decades.
The decline in Mitsubishi's sales has fueled sporadic speculation in recent years that it might withdraw from the U.S. market and refocus on fast-growing emerging markets, where it enjoys brisk sales.
But Masuko said the drop in U.S. sales this year is largely due to the discontinuation of four main models: the Eclipse, Eclipse Spyder, Galant sedan and Endeavor crossover.
And Masuko expects U.S. sales to rebound next year. U.S. sales should reach 55,000 units in the current fiscal year ending March 31, 2013. But they should climb to around 80,000 units in the following fiscal year, Masuko said.
They will be helped by the launch of new vehicles, such as the Outlander crossover, which arrives stateside next July, he said.
Mitsubishi also plans to ramp up production at its only North American assembly plant in Normal, Ill. The plant makes the Outlander Sport small crossover at a pace of around 50,000 units a year.
Masuko said Mitsubishi intends to boost output at the Illinois plant to 70,000 units next year, with production underpinned to support increased exports to such markets as Russia, Latin America and the Middle East.