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Phillips happy to keep Mitsubishi busy

Badge of honour: "Whatever badge it's got, we'd be happy to build it," says Mitsubishi's Tom Phillips.

Mitsubishi Australia chief Tom Phillips is flexible regarding the local manufacturer's post-2005 program

14 Aug 2001

MITSUBISHI Australia managing director Tom Phillips says he is unconcerned what vehicles the company's two Adelaide plants build post-2005, just as long as they are still in business.

The man with one of the toughest jobs in the local automotive industry was speaking after headquarters in Japan confirmed that a substantially facelifted Magna/Verada range would be built in Adelaide from 2003.

That announcement, by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation chief executive officer Rolf Eckrodt, quelled short-term speculation about Adelaide's future but left open the question of what will happen when an all-new model is due in 2005.

"If we get the nod, whatever badge it's got we'll be happy to build it," Mr Phillips said.

Because DaimlerChrysler has a controlling stake in Mitsubishi, any number of cars could be short-listed for local production. Speculation has often included the Jeep range of four-wheel drives, but other DC brands include Mercedes-Benz, Chrysler and Dodge.

Even Malaysian manufacturer Proton, in which Mitsubishi is a shareholder, indicated last week it has considered assembly in Adelaide.

Mr Phillips said the confirmation of the Magna/Verada facelift, which Mr Eckrodt gave to Australian Prime Minister John Howard during a meeting in Tokyo 10 days ago, and the fact the car would be among the first to present Mitsubishi's new global look gave him confidence for the longer term future.

The cost of the upgrade of Magna/Verada has been put at $70 million.

Mr Phillips said there were a lot of options available to Mitsubishi in Australia beyond 2005.

"One option is to import everything, but there are other options which are being fully investigated and different model options," he said.

"We are taking the view that we are not going to speculate on what type of product or anything like that. We have a job to do in the next four or five years to turn the company around and we are getting good signs of support." Mr Phillips did confirm that a proposal to build a replacement for Magna, including a light duty four-wheel drive, was still alive.

The project, codenamed PS41 and PSU, was exclusively revealed in automotive e-news in March.

"They are still in the mix," Mr Phillips said.

"They're a possibility but there are other things - not so much that I favour (over PSU/PS41), but other things that we are keeping close to our chest." Mr Phillips spoke bullishly about the Magna/Verada upgrade, which is being developed by Mitsubishi's new world styling boss Olivier Boulay.

This look bears no relation to a sketch that Mitsubishi Australia released in April, which was a guide to domestic plans for a 2003 makeover.

Mr Boulay viewed a local clay model a month ago while Mr Eckrodt and MMC president Takeshi Sonobe also saw it when they visited Adelaide on Good Friday for a meeting with Mr Phillips.

"I saw Olivier's clay model last Friday (week) and he's performed a miracle," Mr Phillips said.

"He's done a fantastic job and I think that's an indication of some of the support we're getting up there that within the 30-day period they've produced this product."

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