In a move that suggests the Japanese HQ plans a closer eye on its US unit, Mitsubishi Motors Corporation has appointed Hiroshi Harunari president and CEO of Mitsubishi Motors North America (MMNA), effective 1 January, joining Rich Gilligan, who will continue as co-president and co-CEO.

Harunari was managing director of overseas operations for MMC from April 2005. Gilligan has headed MMNA since January 2005 when he was promoted from chief operating officer of the company's North American manufacturing division.

Gilligan took over a troubled company that had been hit financially by defaults on loans offered to 'subprime' customers as part of an ill-starred campaign to boost sales and market share.

Although MMNA posted sales up 3.1% year on year  to 8,953 units in November, according to WardsAuto.com data, year to date sales were still off 23.9% to 114,987.

It is the only Japanese brand with sales running lower than last year in the US but is fighting back with new models such as the Eclipse and a Chrysler-built pickup line and will show an Eclipse convertible and hybrid concept at next month's Detroit motor show.

"North America's extremely competitive and ever-changing automotive market environment requires MMC's direct support and management presence on the ground in North America," MMC president Osamu Masuko said as he announced Harunari's new post.

"Success in North America - with all of its complexity and challenges - is essential to MMC's global success," Masuko aded. " Gilligan and his team have put us on the road to regaining success here. By adding Harunari to our North American team, we are further focusing alignment between MMC and MMNA's strategic approaches, to ensure timely communication between MMC and MMNA, concerning not only sales and marketing, but also R&D and production operations, so that we can quickly and effectively meet the requirements of this dynamic marketplace."

"We are pleased that MMC is sending this clear message of their continued commitment to support MMNA's growth," Gilligan said. "I have worked closely with Harunari over the past several months and look forward to the opportunity to strengthen our partnership. His passion and vast international experience will be a tremendous addition to our efforts in North America."