Scandal-hit Mitsubishi Motors will begin selling a new minivan in China in October as it counts on the world’s fastest-growing car market to make up for poor sales everywhere else.

Reuters noted that, last month, Japan’s only loss-making car manufacturer announced a revival plan that positioned China as its main hope for survival as monthly sales plunge by double digits in its key US and Japanese markets due to a brand image battered by recall scandals and financial losses.

Mitsubishi Motors, held 37% by DaimlerChrysler, forecast sales of more than 200,000 units in China for the current business year to March, targeting a further rise to 310,000 in 2008/09, the report said.

“China is the second-most important region for us after Japan,” senior executive officer Akira Kijima told Reuters in Beijing.

Last business year, its Chinese sales surged 66% to 151,000 units thanks to strong sales of the Lioncel sedan and the Pajero SUV, the report noted.

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To build on the growth, Mitsubishi Motors reportedly said it would launch four models in China during the 2004/05 business year, including the Grandis minivan on display at the Beijing motor show over the next week. The model debuted in Japan in May 2003, and went on sale in Europe this April, Reuters said.

According to the news agency, Japan’s fourth-largest carmaker will also add 11 new models in China by March 2008, while increasing the number of showrooms to 500 by the following year from 60 now.

“The Grandis will play a key role in the company’s efforts to build up the Mitsubishi Motors brand and bolster its product line-up in China,” the company reportedly said in a statement.

Reuters added that Mitsubishi, however, is likely to face tough competition from stronger US, European and Japanese rivals as they offer new models at a faster pacefor China’s increasingly choosy customers.

The report that Mitsubishi last month secured $US4 billion in emergency financial aid to help fund the development of new cars and clean up its balance sheet but has been hit by renewed image problems after more cases of recall cover-ups came to light.

The scandals reportedly have battered sales, with the Grandis selling just 401 units in Japan last month, down 86% from a year earlier and far short of the monthly target of 3,000 units.

While Mitsubishi Motors’ brand has yet to suffer visibly in China, analysts have told Reuters the widespread use of the internet for information could herald a similar fall in sales there too.

Asked about plans for new investments in China to fuel the expansion, Kijima reportedly said that would be decided “some time in the future.”

He told Reuters that Mitsubishi was looking into the idea of expanding cooperation with Southeast Fujian Motor Corp., a local joint venture half-owned by Taiwan’s China Motor Corp. that builds the Lioncel.

Mitsubishi owns 20% of China Motor, which is helping its Japanese partner by buying $91 million of preferred shares as part of the rescue scheme, the report added.