Mitsubishi Motor Sales is targeting 600,000 annual sales for North America by 2007, up from its previously stated goal of 500,000 unit sales by 2005, The Car Connection (TCC) website reported, citing company chief Pierre Gagnon.

Gagnon said such growth means the company is talking about a second North American assembly plant, TCC added.

TCC said Mitsubishi is on track to sell 345,000 vehicles in North America this year, has begun selling in Canada and starts sales in Mexico in early 2003.

Even before those sales start, TCC added, the company is seeing record sales in North America with volume up 10.5% to the end of October.

Citing Gagnon speaking at an Automotive Press Association meeting, TCC said Mitsubishi would launch a new Galant in the fall of 2003 as a 2004 model, 90 days ahead of schedule. The website said the vehicle had previously been intended as a 2005 model and Gagnon also announced a Lancer Sportback, a five-door wagon to compete against the five door Ford Focus and Mazda Protégé5, which will debut in 2003.

As previously announced, the company would launch the Lancer Evolution in early 2003, TCC said.

The Car Connection said French-Canadian Gagnon takes formal control of all of Mitsubishi's North American operations in January, including the research and development arm, finance company, sales organisation and manufacturing company.

TCC cited Gagnon saying the company is looking to expand its North American manufacturing base beyond its Normal, Illinois, plant.

“We want to build cars where we sell them, and we are talking about an expansion in North America that would accommodate our growth plans," Gagnon said, according to TCC.

TCC said Gagnon thought it most likely that Mitsubishi would require a dedicated plant of its own but did not rule out a joint facility with alliance partners Chrysler or Hyundai.

The three companies are already co-operating on a world 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine that all three companies would use, TCC said.

The website cited Gagnon saying that Mitsubishi has more than 20 projects going with Chrysler, including engineering development and procurement.

According to TCC, Gagnon said US dealers are clamouring for a pickup truck.

Mitsubishi already builds a line of pickup trucks in Thailand but the L200 line is only a small truck by US standards.

TCC said Gagnon was coy about any plans for building one in North America but noted that Chrysler executives have said the idea of sharing small pickup production with Mitsubishi has been discussed.

The Car Connection said Mitsubishi's North American operation is the only part of the troubled Japanese company that is profitable.

TCC added that Mitsubishi would introduce the Endeavor SUV, which it is building in Illinois, at January's North American International Auto Show.

According to The Car Connection, Gagnon said the newcomer resembles the Toyota Highlander in its utility, but is closer to the size of a Honda Pilot.

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