Mitsubishi Motors Europe (MME) calendar year sales fell 18% to 164,462 units versus 200,045 in 2007, the automaker said on Wednesday.

"In European markets severely hit by the crisis, MME sales results for calendar year 2008 have both been a consequence of the economic circumstances and a first glimpse at the change-over slowly taking place for the brand, from an SUV-focused nameplate to being a supplier of non-mainstream passenger cars/crossovers, with an SUV presence," a company statement said.

MME noted that all of Europe's 'big five' markets saw large falls with Spain off 28% last year.

Consistent with industry trends (economic crisis, fuel price volatility and CO2-based taxes), large SUVs were amongst the hardest hit, MME said. Sales of its large Pajero/Montero/Shogun line fell 46% and the L200 truck line by 25%, though sales of commercial versions held up better.

These SUVs have been the biggest sellers for Mitsubishi business in the big five EU countries and sales fell the most in four key markets - UK, 23.3%; Italy, 35.8%; Spain, 43.2%; and France, 45%.

MME also 'lost' some volume during the year as Ukraine (MME's third largest market in 2007 with 27,585 units) severed most of business links with MME and now reports directly to MMC in Tokyo. Russia has also reported direct to Japan for several years now.

MME said 2008 was a run-out year for its popular Dutch-built Colt line; the redesigned range was launched in some markets during the last quarter.

New Lancer roll-out was slow and steady and the Sportback - a five-door hatchback destined to be the volume model in the European C segment - was only introduced in most markets last summer with supply limited by the Japanese factory.

"Looking forward, post-crisis, Mitsubishi Motors is committed to continue reducing its market and image dependency on large SUVs in the region," MME said.

It plans to expand passenger car sales with "adequate volume and additional variants" of the Colt and Lancer, "well tailored to European requirements".

New engines due this year include the low CO2 Colt Clear Tec unit (a three-cylinder 1.1-litre petrol motor with class leading 115g/km emissions) within weeks and, later, Mitsubishi's new in-house-developed 4N13 Euro 5-compliant diesel for the Lancer.

The i MiEV electric car is also being evaluated widely in Europe.

Building on the Outlander's success, Mitsubishi will enlarge this family of 'on-road crossovers' with further development of the existing model line plus the later introduction of a more compact companion model, based on the 2007 Concept-cX show car.

The Pajero/Montero/Shogun and L200 will both be updated.