President of Mitsubishi Motors Corporation, Osamu Masuko, has definite plans to revive falling U.S. sales. Overall, the auto industry in the U.S. is up 17%; however, Mitsubishi’s sales have been flat, and its market share has gone down from 0.6% to 0.5%.
The decline has been ongoing since 2007, but Masuko says he is hopeful that introducing new products and producing a new model at an underused Illinois assembly plant will give the company the boost it is looking for. He believes annual sales will end on the upswing as the Outlander Sport is launched.
Masuko said, “This is an important year. We have strong expectations for the U.S. market.”
A final decision regarding which model will be added to the Mitsubishi plant in Normal, Illinois is expected by the end of the year. At one time, the facility was operated jointly with Chrysler, but Chrysler pulled out and annual capacity went from 240,000 vehicles down to 18,501 when Mitsubishi became sole operator.
Masuko says cuts have brought the breakeven point down to 70,000 units per year from 100,000, but downsizing won’t solve the problem entirely, and the factory simply needs more volume. Masuko said, “It has been downsized to a certain extent. By the end of this year we would like to determine what vehicle we should produce that would come close to 100,000 units.”
Redesigning the aging Mitsubishi lineup of mid-sized and large vehicles is another project Masuko believes is key to better sales. Produced at the Illinois plant are the Eclipse coupe, Eclipse Spyder, Galant sedan and Endeavor SUV. The company’s best-sellers are imported from Japan: the Lancer sedan and the Outlander SUV. The top-selling Lancer only accounted for 10,387 new sales in the U.S. through June.
Smaller volumes mean more expense to produce a new model, says Masuko.
Regarding the smaller number of dealerships nationwide, Masuko says “Some dealers have left, but others have joined. The dealer organization has been revitalized.” Since March 2009, the number of dealerships has dropped from 420 to 397.
The new Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric vehicle along with another small vehicle will be available within the next two years. The i-MiEV will hit showrooms in December of 2011, and the other unnamed small car will arrive at the end of 2012. The small car price target is approximately $11,300, and it will have a three cylinder, 1.0-1.2 liter engine.
North America is currently Mitsubishi’s smallest market. In changing the company trend geared toward larger vehicles to a lineup including smaller, more fuel efficient cars, the company hopes to boost sales in the U.S. and gain market share.
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