Mitsubishi Exec Says Automaker Not Leaving U.S. Market

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Although other foreign automakers facing withering sales in the United States simply opted to fold its operations and go home, Mitsubshi's executives say they've never considered such a move.

"People have been asking me for the past six years wheter Mitsubishi's going to withdraw from the market," company president Osamu Masuko told Automotive News in a recent interview. "We have never thought about withdrawing from the U.S. market, and we will not do so."

Mitsubishi Motors' U.S. sales were booming earlier this decade, peaking in 2002 at a solid 354,111 vehicles. Since then, those figures have steadily declined. The company hopes to deliver roughly 68,000 vehicles by the end of 2010 -- a reasonable estimate, given roughly 37,000 Mitsubishis have been sold in the U.S. through August. Remarkably, Masuko hopes to bring the company's annual sales rate in the United States to the 200,000-car mark, although he won't give a precise timetable..

Although part of Mitsubishi's stunted sales can be traced to the lack of 0-percent financing in the wake of the economic meltdown, the company's model mix doesn't help. The company's bias towards sedans and sport-utilities didn't help it any when buyers turned towards smaller vehicles, nor does the sheer age of Mitsubishi products currently offered in the U.S. Although a product renaissance isn't planned for 2011 (expect minor trim and content changes across the board), Masuko knows the company needs to reshape its portfolio.

"It's not possible to continue with the models that we have had," Masuko told AN, refusing to comment further.

Other reports suggest Mitsubishi may specialize in small cars -- a strength of its domestic operations in Japan -- for the North American market. The new 2011 Outlander Sport and the forthcoming electric i-MiEV microcar are two examples, but the company is reportedly looking to develop smaller vehicles with a broad, global appeal -- much like its current Lancer compact sedan. Larger, market-specific models, like the U.S.-built Galant, Eclipse, and Endeavor, may eventually be phased out, putting the future of the company's assembly plant in Normal, Illinois, into flux.

All -- or most -- will reportedly be revealed later this year, as Mitsubishi management is expected to roll out its mid-term business plan sometime in November. Given that the U.S. accounts for roughly nine percent of Mitsubishi's global volume, should the automaker stay put? What does it need to succeed in the U.S.A? Send us your thoughts in the comments section below.

Source: Automotive News (Subscription required)

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