Mitsubishi Motors welcomed the arrival of the Outlander Sport on
Tuesday at the central Illinois plant where the crossover model will be built.
Gov. Pat Quinn was among guests that heard Mitsubishi officials declare that the conversion marked a new direction for the Japanese automaker.
Mitsubishi invested $45 million in the Normal plant to produce the compact sport utility vehicle previously produced in Japan.
The Outlander Sport is expected to serve as the centerpiece in the Japanese automaker's simplified product line that now consists of the Outlander, Outlander Sport, Lancer and Mitsubishi's all-electric i-car.
The Normal plant is slated to produce 50,000 Outlander Sport models each year.
"We hope to grow that to 70,000 vehicles a year," said spokesman Dan Irvin, noting that the first Sport models will ship to U.S. dealerships in early August.
Half of the vehicles produced in Normal are expected to be exported to 30 countries around the world, said Irvin.
Mitsubishi's Normal plant, with its 1,300 workers, last year produced 27,000 vehicles, including the Eclipse, the Eclipse Spyder and Endeavor models, all discontinued Mitsubishi brands that ended production at the plant in October, he said. The last Galant came off the line in Normal last week, said Irvin.
"The Normal plant was always designed for a rolling launch," he said, referring to the many changes made at the plant to accommodate production of the Outlander Sport while the Galant assembly line rolled on.
"The Galant was a real workhorse for us. It supported a lot families for the better part of 20 years. But the market was headed for smaller sedans and crossovers," said Irvin.
Introduced to the market two years ago, the Outlander Sport already is the company's best-selling vehicle in North America.
U.S. sales of the Outlander Sport in June were up 13 percent compared to June 2011.
Mike Miller, the Mitsubishi auto dealer in Peoria, called the Outlander Sport "the best car built at the (Normal) plant since the Eclipse in the 1990s."
"It's nice to see Mitsubishi making a comeback. They've always built a really nice car. I think it's a sign of bright days to come," he said.
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