Mitsubishi Magnas made Down Under are proving an instant hit with buyers in the Middle East, writes Mike Duffy.

So much so, the Australian arm of Mitsubishi Motors Corp. of Japan expects this year's initial shipment of 900 units to the Gulf region to grow to 6,000 vehicles next year, earning $A222 million in much-needed export dollars.

The car maker's distributor in Kuwait has already increased January-build orders from a modest 80 cars to 350.

Meanwhile, Toyota Australia reports record exports for October and General Motors' Holden says Middle East sales held up far higher than anticipated for the month.

Mitsubishi is expecting distributors in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and Lebanon to increase orders in line with higher-than-anticipated demand.

General Manager Export, Peter McInnes, said: "We had planned major product release events throughout the Gulf region, but these had to be cancelled after September 11.

"Therefore, the better-than-expected retail sales are even more promising for the future."

To add to Mitsubishi's strong export finish to the year, 1,400 October sales of the (Diamante-badged) Magna in the United States set a monthly record.

Mitsubishi exports this year are expected to top 19,000 units worth $A700 million.

By the end of 2001, the company should have shipped 17,000 vehicles to the US, 1,000 to New Zealand and 1,000 more to the Middle East and other smaller markets.

Export revenue will go a long way towards helping Mitsubishi Australia present a strong business case to its Japanese parent to build an additional vehicle - or vehicles - for global markets.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Rolf Eckrodt is impressed with how Mitsubishi Australia's managers have accepted the challenge of turning last year's $A186 million record loss into a (target) profit for 2001.

Australian Managing Director Tom Phillips said: "We have some exciting models on our wish-list for export markets.

"However, we will get the go-ahead from MMC in Japan only if we can show success with the current car.

"Therefore, while retail numbers in the Middle East have to be viewed as meagre, they are the building block for something much bigger."

While Magna sales in Australia are trailing the 30,000 units in the company's 2001 business plan, exports to the US and Middle East will more than make up the shortfall.

Toyota Australia exported over 8,200 completely built-up (CBU) vehicles in October, the highest shipped in a month. This exceeds by 1,039 units the previous record set last August.

Toyota Australia president Ken Asano is delighted with the performance in the present circumstances.

Asano said: "Toyota's export volumes are continuing to grow, achieving a monthly shipment almost 15 percent higher than the previous record. This result is particularly pleasing given the current international situation.

"While there is potential for exports to be affected, there has been no impact to date and we are confident of continued strong shipments between now and the end of the year.''

October's exports consisted of three shipments to South Africa, four to New Zealand and six to the Middle East.

The October result exceeds the entire yearly volume of 4,923 units Toyota exported in 1995.

In 2000, the Australian factory exported more than 45,000 vehicles plus spare parts worth over $A1 billion.

This year Toyota has already shipped 50,000 cars and senior executive vice president John Conomos said export earnings would again exceed $A1 billion.

Toyota Australia ships to 33 countries and is Australia's largest vehicle exporter. Most exports are left-hand drive Camry sedans and wagons but the Avalon (an older-generation model than sold in the U.S.) is sent across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand.

The Middle East is Toyota Australia's largest market and LHD Camrys are shipped to eight countries in the region. In Saudi Arabia, the largest customer, the Camry is the top selling passenger vehicle.

Around 120,000 Camrys, valued at more than $A1.2 billion, have been exported to Saudi Arabia since 1996.

Australia's third-largest car exporter, Holden, says that more cars were shipped to the Middle East in October than was predicted after September 11.

However, GM Gulf region distributors cut orders by 2,000 units following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre.

To view related research reports, please follow the links below:-

Mitsubishi Motors Corporation Company Profile (download)

Mitsubishi News Update Service

Light vehicle niche markets 2000

The world's car manufacturers: A financial and operating review (download)