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McEniry maintains the rage over ABC report

Simmering anger: Robert McEniry wants an end to speculation.

Mitsubishi chief says "Project Phoenix" report was flawed and dropped

Mitsubishi logo31 Oct 2006

By MARTON PETTENDY

MITSUBISHI Motors Australia boss Robert McEniry launched a ferocious attack at Thursday’s Sydney motor show opening on the ABC, which last week reported an internal MMAL document called "Project Phoenix" contained specific plant closure dates for Mitsubishi's Adelaide assembly plant.

The Mitsubishi chief confirmed the document existed, but said it was rejected by MMAL management because it was flawed.

His passionate plea to stop continued media speculation about the future of Mitsubishi manufacturing in Australia followed letters to employers, dealers and the government, which stressed no plant closure decision had been made.

"As our press release said yesterday, that was an internal report that was flawed and rejected by the management of MMAL," Mr McEniry told journalists after his Sydney presentation, in which Mitsubishi revealed its redesigned Pajero and Outlander SUVs publicly in Australia for the first time.

Mr McEniry also announced Mitsubishi would launch nine new models over the next 15 months, including a production version of the supercharged Team Mitsubishi Ralliart 380 sedan concept it also revealed on Thursday.

"I have a job as the senior executive in the organisation to look at every aspect of the business. That's what good governance is about. That's what any responsible corporate body does," he said.

"I'm not backing away from the fact that we looked at that or we looked at this or we looked at whatever. What I won't do though is go to external sources and ask permission if I can do a study or have a team do a study and use a particular name."Mr McEniry became heated when asked by the ABC to confirm that no decision had been made to close Tonsley Park.

"Let me give you a copy of my script, let me give you a copy of the media release yesterday, let me give you a copy of the employee bulletin, let me give you transcripts to the government if you want me to. How many times do we have to say it?" he said.

Mr McEniry said the document's proposal to give no notice of closure to unions and only two weeks to the government was one of many reasons it was rejected by MMAL's management team.

"That's why this whole thing is flawed, one of the reasons it was rejected," he said. "The group that put it together, the management rejected the whole thing."Mr McEniry said he would not accept his management team's integrity being questioned.

"I made it very clear to you: our method of dealing with our stakeholders is open, honest and transparent and I get very, very angry when people question that because they're questioning my integrity and they're questioning my management team's integrity and I will not stand for it." Asked if he thought such speculation would now cease, Mr McEniry said: "I wish I could answer that in the affirmative. I think there are people that continually place rumours on the merry-go-round, so I don't know."Mr McEniry suggested he was aware of the MMAL source that leaked the draft document to the ABC, but that it had not yet been "plugged".

He said the government continued to be sympathetic with MMAL. "They like most Australians want us to continue, but it becomes very hard when you keep being beaten over the head," he said.

Earlier on Thursday Holden's executive director for sales and marketing Alan Batey stated Mitsubishi had sold just 37 examples of its volume selling 380 sedan to private buyers in September, and Mr McEniry confirmed the proportion of 380 sales to individuals was currently "below 20 per cent".

"Private fleet is very low and that's something that's concerning us and that's why we bring out things like the Platinum to spike that. The private sector of the segment overall though as you know is generally very low overall."

 center imageLeft: Robert McEniry.

But he said a deal with Avis to supply 2500 locally-made 380s to the rental company, which was announced in Sydney, showed confidence in the future of Australia's four-largest vehicle manufacturer.

"I think the Avis deal is an indication of confidence going forward and the immediate reaction in some our dealerships were people actually going in to sign up for 380," he said.

"So while that's not a huge amount the public are really starting to dismiss this and clearly we're hoping that there is no lingering damage done by this."Mr McEniry said fleet sales were crucial to MMAL’s success. "We certainly don't want to be dependant on rent-a-car business that's for sure, but to get a base particularly in local manufacturing, all the local manufacturers look for a locked in volume base.

"This, along with some of the other programs we're working on, gives us that locked-in volume base. It's profitable business for us so let's not get too carried away but we're certainly happy to do it," he said.

Mr McEniry said the company would continue to survive as a manufacturer in Australia on annual 380 sedan sales of between 12,000 and 15,000, a sales rate that he said he expected would continue through 2007.

"We've got the manufacturing processes down where that can still work. We'll just measure how the market's going. Winning contracts like the Avis program – we've got some others on the go – will give us the foundations to continue on.

"As you know rent-a-car deals and some of these major fleet deals are usually a rolling program, so we've got a strong foundation going forward."Mr McEniry said improved sales, new products and customer satisfaction would be the key to MMAL's long-term future as a local manufacturer. He said MMAL's original annual 380 sales forecast of about 32,000 was "unrealistic" in today's contracting large-car segment, but remained upbeat about 380's sales performance.

"When I first had a look at that total segment and how much the segment for a variety of reasons had contracted it was clear that the business plan aspirations were probably not too realistic," he said.

"They may have been when the plan was put down, but when I joined late last year and looking at what was happening in the marketplace they weren't realistic, so I had to make and we had to make some fairly quick decisions to start restructuring for a better position.

"Now the car's still running at 10 or 11 per cent of the segment, which is where it was when the segment was high and where it is today with increased competition, so if you look at the performance of the car in segment as it sits today, it's doing a phenomenal job."Asked whether a facelift or replacement for the 380 had been signed off, Mr McEniry said: "Not yet. That wouldn't be done... usually the cycle would (have it) happen probably some time next year. They'd probably start doing that by the end of next year."He said the TMR 380 sports sedan concept would become a production reality as soon as possible, following strong early interest from potential customers.

"We've been a little bit embarrassed that we've already had some customers go into dealerships with shots from the internet putting their money down, so we're going to have to start moving that along pretty quickly.

"We're just working through that. All the parts on the car are either from the 220 Evo, so it's a matter of as quickly as we can if it's feasible working through the homologation process."

More info: What Mitsubishi said


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