Mitsubishi's plan to axe the seven-seat Montero SUV (known as the Pajero in Asian markets and Shogun in Europe) from the US after the 2006 model year in favour of an enlarged seven-seat version of the new Outlander due on sale in Japan this autumn doesn't mean the end of the big SUV in the Japanese automaker's line-up.

"As a pillar for our brand, SUVs are key to our development and image and more so with Pajero/Shogun in a region like Europe, for historical reasons such as the Dakar victories," said Daniel Nacass, general manager of public relations for Holland-based Mitsubishi Motors Europe.

"If you look at our European numbers, you will see that the current Pajero is holding its position fairly well in a segment more crowded everyday, remaining our number four model overall (26,678 units for 2004 and 10,657 units for Jan/May 2005) and a strong financial contributor to our profits.

"The Pajero situation is radically different in the US with somewhat lower figures."

Automotive News this week reported that Mitsubishi North America sold 3,910 Monteros in 2003, 2,835 in 2004 and 1,365 so far this year. The paper cited the US arm's CEO Rich Gilligan as saying the volume there does not justify updating the model. Mitsubishi NA does, however, also sell a large, locally-produced 3.8-litre V6-powered, five-seat 'crossover' SUV called the Endeavor, which is not available in other markets.

Nacass said the current Pajero/Shogun will be replaced at the end of its lifecycle by a next-generation model which will be sold in all markets, except the US.

"In parallel, the current Outlander will also be replaced at the end of its lifecycle by a car related to the new Outlander, just announced by MMC, [in all markets] including Europe," he added.

The current Outlander is sold as the Airtrek in Japan and New Zealand but MMC is now standardising on the Outlander name globally - its Japanese website is previewing the model for domestic consumers using the previous export-only name.

Nacass was more coy about a successor to the still current Pajero Sport/ Shogun Sport - the equivalent Montero Sport was dropped in the US after the 2004 model year.

"It is a bit too early to elaborate," he said.

Graeme Roberts