Mitsubishi Motors (MMC ) is restructuring its European unit and relocating vehicle-related functions (such as sales, marketing, product management and business planning) from the Netherlands to Japan. Staff there will now liaise directly with Mitsubishi Motor Europe’s (MME ) 34 European distributors “to better prepare for tomorrow”, the automaker said on Friday.

The restructure will see MME move its head office to the same Born location as its car assembly plant and parts distribution centre and axe 45% of the current ‘white collar’ head office jobs.

MME said the changes would not affect the NedCar vehicle factory and would start as soon as required regulatory clearances were received.

The automaker recently consolidated design and engineering functions in Japan, reflecting a shift in its long-term product strategy from regional cars to global cars.

“MMC proposes to implement a new business model for its European subsidiary, Mitsubishi Motors Europe  (MME), the automaker said in a statement.

“This alignment with MMC’s global organisation is meant to better develop MMC’s presence in its most important global business region through better efficiencies and a direct connection with the European markets and customers.”

MME started in 1977 as a small liaison office in Rotterdam and now employs 335 there. Whilst successful and profitable between the 2003 and 2007 financial years, MME unit sales were down 18% in calendar year 2008 with a further decrease expected this year, in line with forecasts for the industry in the region.

“In order to better fulfil its long-term mission, MME should accompany Mitsubishi Motors’ strategic shift from being an SUV-focused nameplate to being a supplier of environment-friendly passenger cars/crossovers with a SUV presence – itself pre-empting pro-actively structural changes in market demand,” MMC’s statement added.

“Translated into business model terms, it is clear that the size and scope of the current MME is no longer suited to both the fundamental evolution of the automotive industry and the strategic re-deployment Mitsubishi Motors has decided to embrace in this new context.”

Support functions such as logistics, planning and ordering, finance, human resources and information technology would continue at a ‘new MME’, albeit a leaner company, MMC said.

The “heavily logistics-biased” aftersales management functions (sales and marketing of parts and accessories; technical service and training), would move to MME’s European parts distribution centre in Born, near Maastricht, and be streamlined as well. Born is also home to MME’s European factory which makes the Colt small car and Outlander compact SUV for sale in this region.

The restructured MME would vacate its current headquarters building in Schiphol-Rijk, near Amsterdam, for the shift to Born.