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Mitsubishi swaps cardigan for "pull-over, driver"

More mumbo: The current Mitsubishi Magna Sport is about to make way for a more overtly sporting successor.

Mitsubishi aims to eradicate its grey cardigan image once and for all

2 Aug 2000

MITSUBISHI Australia is planning to set up a high-performance division to build and sell a new breed of "Super Magna".

The plans include a four-wheel drive version that could be priced about $65,000.

The 4WD technology would be sourced from the Mitsubishi Diamante, which is the Magna equivalent built and sold in Japan.

An example of the 4WD Diamante is due at Mitsubishi Australia's Adelaide headquarters about now for a technical and feasibility study.

A decision will be made whether to proceed with the 4WD before the end of the year.

New Mitsubishi Australia managing director Tom Phillips has enthusiastically endorsed the plans for a high performance division, which he sees as a vital plank in erasing the company's 'cardigan" image.

It will also be an important way of maintaining sales volume for the current generation Magna, which must now last until at least 2004 before a new car arrives.

Of course, these plans and a new generation Magna would hit the scrapheap if Mitsubishi Motors Corporation and new part-owner Daimler-Chrysler decided to pull the plug on Australian manufacturing at the end of 2000.

Mitsubishi Australia must show profitability this year for that to be avoided.

The first product to emerge should be a 170kW-plus hot front-wheel drive Magna on sale as soon as mid-2001. It is currently being developed by Mitsubishi engineers.

The 4WD Magna could follow as soon as 12 months later. Mitsubishi Australia senior development engineer Steve Lewis is confident the Magna platform can be adopted to the Diamante 4WD drivetrain without spending "mountains of money".

And he rejected speculation that Mitsubishi's notoriously frugal attitude to development would kill the car off.

"There's been a fundamental change in attitude within the company towards projects like that. But we can't do it just because we want to though, it has to be feasible and profitable," Mr Lewis said.

Mitsubishi Australia's equivalent of Holden Special Vehicles would almost certainly be set up on the same site as the Tonsley Park manufacturing plant in Adelaide.

It is expected Mitsubishi's motorsport arm, Ralliart, would be involved in the development of the cars and the marketing operation.

Mitsubishi has dabbled in the performance sedan market with the Magna Sport since 1997, and with next week's launch of the TJ range will introduce the aggressively-styled VR-X which is believed to have a significant power increase from the current 3.5-litre, 147kW V6.

However, the product currently being developed is more sporting in its focus, with increased power thanks to cylinder head development, modified suspension and brakes and larger 17-inch wheels.

"We are working on it, we have a plan of the vehicles we are wanting to produce," said Mitsubishi Australia's product planning manager, Mr Tim McCranor.

About 2000 locally-built sports and performance sedans are sold per month - mainly HSV and Tickford products - and it is a highly profitable and growing market segment, which explains why Mitsubishi is so keen to dive in much deeper.

Mr McCranor said: "Look at that market and about 80 per cent are at the premium end - the 5.7-litre V8s, the HSVs. Twenty per cent is the $30,000-$40,000 bracket. If you can get up to $50,000-$65,000, that is the height of the volume.

"People are prepared to pay that sort of money because it's what they want. These guys are very performance oriented. They want good stereos, they want performance, they're not interested in fuel economy, they want power. It's an image, individual thing." Mitsubishi will do as many of the modifications as possible on the production line, rather than shipping the cars to a separate location as HSV does with the Commodore.

"The problem with going off-line is maintaining the quality of the finished car," said Mr Lewis.

"Any re-work you do after the car has come off the line has the potential to introduce small scratches or some small deviation. It's not a good idea."

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