Mitsubishi Motors launched its Outlander [Airtrek] crossover model in Thailand on Friday in a move aimed at winning back lost share in the country's small but fast-growing passenger car market, Reuters reported.

"The launch of the Outlander...is the first in a new product offensive that calls for a shift away from (our) traditional reliance on pickup trucks to a broader product mix," Mitsubishi said in a statement cited by the news agency, which noted that pickups dominate Thailand's vehicle market, accounting for roughly 70%, but growth has come much faster in the car segment.

Reuters said Mitsubishi Motors' car sales have plunged as rivals Toyota Motor and Honda Motor flexed their muscles, causing its share of the car market to fall to 3.1% in the year to date, from 5.7% in the same period last year.

Mitsubishi, owned 37% by DaimlerChrysler, hopes to reverse that trend by following the Outlander's launch with the Grandis minivan, to be built locally from next year, the report added.

Reuters said that, in a bid to boost its profile, the company also announced a name change for its local unit to Mitsubishi Motors (Thailand) Company Limited from MMC Sittipol.

The report said that Mitsubishi expects its total Thai sales, including cars and pickups, to grow more than 12% this year to 36,000 units, for an unchanged overall market share of 8%. Of the total, it expects car sales of 6,200, which would be down 20% from 2002, Reuters added.

The news agency said competition in the Thai car market is expected to heat up further as sales volumes approach the government's 180,000 units-a-year target - Toyota and Honda, which control 82% of the market, also launched new cars in Thailand this week.