History in the Making! Mitsubishi in Thailand sends first batch of cars to USA

Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 1556.JPG

Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 1556.JPG (Photo credit: Gen Kanai)

Automotive News reports; “At this gleaming, barely year-old Mitsubishi assembly plant, it’s the little things that say you’re in Thailand and not Toyota City or Tennessee. There’s the errant sparrow inside the new cafeteria, apparently trying to nest in an air duct. There are the conspicuous loose and wobbly faucets in the new worker washroom. Don’t forget the copious curtains of sparks showering clear across the factory aisles. The dearth of robots. Or the legions of workers swarming the line, especially in quality control. Mitsubishi Motors Corp.’s newest factory may be a little rough around the edges. But it is doing something never done before. It just started exporting vehicles from this hot, humid, sometimes chaotic Southeast Asian emerging market to the United States. It may be followed by other rivals, as automakers pump up production capacity here and Thai leaders seek to emulate Japan’s export-based growth model of past decades. Mitsubishi President Osamu Masuko, desperate to cut costs and boost beleaguered U.S. sales, is betting that American customers will like their first taste of Thai-made autos. The maiden shipment of 1,074 Mitsubishi Mirage subcompact hatchbacks set sail from Laem Chabang port, just south of Bangkok, on Aug. 27. The pint-sized 1.2-liter three-bangers, in a palette of colors such as powder puff magenta and Key lime green, hit U.S. showrooms last month. Mitsubishi is projecting a scant 7,200 annual U.S. sales for the Mirage. But competitors will be watching the budget-priced hatchback as Thailand blossoms from a regional manufacturing hub into a global auto exporter. Rivals, including Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Nissan and even BMW are adding Thai output to tap Southeast Asia’s booming economy and to free production capacity elsewhere. That makes it likely that more Thai-made cars will cross the ocean, especially if the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact eventually opens tariff-free trade between Thailand and other nations, including the United States. Thailand already exports to Japan and Europe, trading on its low costs, government incentives and liberal trade agreements. In 1995, the country exported barely 8,800 vehicles. Last year, it shipped just over 1 million. (Read More)

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