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Mitsubishi goes for gold!

Recipient: Mitsubishi Australia based its Magna replacement on the US Galant sedan and now the 380 will play a role in America's 2006 version (above). Below (from left): Colt EV electric vehicle, US Eclipse, Triton, Grandis AWD, Lancer Evo IX.

Mitsubishi Australia to export 380 sedan expertise as Japan endorses the new car

Mitsubishi logo7 Sep 2005

By NEIL MCDONALD in JAPAN

MITSUBISHI Australia’s vital new Magna replacement, which will be launched to the media later this week and goes on sale on September 28, has been named by top brass at Mitsubishi Motors Corporation as the best of the company’s global vehicles.

As a result, senior MMC officials have confirmed that some of Mitsubishi Australia’s local chassis and engineering work on its 380 medium sedan will be included in the facelifted US-model Galant next year.

And although Mitsubishi Australia’s hopes of building a long-wheelbase export car remain dead and buried, its Japanese parent has confirmed that if the $600 million 380 is a success, the company could play a much larger role within Mitsubishi’s global operations.

Senior executive director of MMC, Tetsuro Aikawa, told GoAuto last week that as a result of the thumbs-up for the Australian-developed 380, Mitsubishi Australia may play an expanded research, development and design role in future models – possibly even the next-generation Lancer.

Mr Aikawa, who oversees product development and environmental research, said MMC had been impressed with the work Mitsubishi Australia had done on the 380, which GoAuto can now reveal will be offered in four models – ES, LS, VR-X and GT Signature.

But he said any bigger plans for Australia depended "on the success, or not, of the 380".

If it was a sales success, MMC could increase development power to do as much as possible in Australia, he said.

"But at the moment we’re not thinking of that," he said.

With the long-wheelbase export car – PS41L – consigned to history, Mr Aikawa said the 380 proved that the Australian operation had a lot to offer the group.

He was confident the Adelaide-built car would go a long way to improving the company’s brand image, which would be further enhanced with the rollout of other new products.

The 380 has had a big impact at MMC and within the global Mitsubishi group of companies.

Mr Aikawa said he believed the Australian car was much better looking than the US version, and that engineering lessons learned with the 380 would find their way into the model-year 2006 Galant in the US.

The interior was better executed while the handling and driving experience was superior to the US-spec car, he said.

Despite MMC’s guarded confidence, Mr Aikawa has ruled out a turbocharged or all-wheel drive model.

"It’s feasible but not practical at the moment," he said.

However, he said a Ralliart 380 was possible.

"We are thinking the next model could be a Ralliart version to improve engine power," he said.

GoAuto can confirm that the 380 has been well received by Australian fleet buyers and dealers.

All have singled out the car’s power, gearbox and interior space as superior to the Magna.

 center image On the eve of the local company’s most important launch in its history, GoAuto has been given a glimpse of Mitsubishi’s future at the company’s automotive headquarters at Okazaki, near Nagoya in southern Japan.

Over the next three years it will roll out four new models – Lancer, Outlander, Triton and Pajero, as well as a significantly revised Colt – and has confirmed it will only develop vehicles in segments it knows it can compete.

The hot Ralliart business will also become mainstream with Ralliart versions of the Colt, Lancer and possibly a short-wheelbase three-door Pajero planned.

Four new aluminium block MIVEC engines will also arrive over the next few years to fit into the A, B, C and D market segments.

The A segment, or mini-car segment in Japan, will see a turbocharged 660cc 1.0-litre MIVEC, which will power the Mitsubishi I, a small city car.

The B segment will have 1.3- and 1.5-litre MIVEC engines while the C and D cars will have four-cylinders in 1.8-, 2.0- and 2.4-litre capacities, as well as V6 engines for the US market and possibly Australia in 2.5-, 3.0- and 3.5-litre capacities.

Mitsubishi Motors has also invested heavily in an in-wheel lithium-ion electric battery car, which it says will be on sale in Japan by 2010.

The in-wheel 20kW engines do away with a conventional powerplant.

The company believes it could sell the city car for less than $US19,000. Trials with Japanese fleets are set to begin next year with the test vehicle capable of 150km before needing a recharge.

Earlier this year, Mitsubishi Australia recorded a massive $588 million loss for the Japanese financial year ending March 31, which makes the success of the 380 critical.

Mitsubishi has set a sales forecast of 30,000 380s a year, plus 2000 to New Zealand, which represents 50 per cent of capacity, a break-even point for the factory.

MMC executives in Japan believe total Australian sales could reach between 60,000 and 70,000 vehicles and possibly expand to 100,000 once the 380 is entrenched in the marketplace.

Last year, Mitsubishi Australia sold 56,967 vehicles.

MMC’s managing director of overseas operations, Hiroshi Harunari, is confident the 380 will help the company claw back its fourth spot (lost to Mazda) on the sales ladder this year, behind Toyota, Holden and Ford.

What's coming from Mitsubishi:

Triton 4x4 - June 2006
Triton 4x2 - Jan 2007
Colt upgrade/VR-X - mid-2006
Colt Cabrio - mid-2006
Colt Ralliart - 2007
Pajero LWB - 4th qtr 2006
Outlander - 4th qtr 2006
GS Lancer sedan/hatch - 4th qtr 2007
GS Lancer Evo X - 1st qtr 2008
GS Lancer Ralliart sedan/hatch - 1st qtr 2008
Pajero Ralliart SWB three-door - 2007

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