Local officials and NASA Endeavour astronaut Colonel Mark Lee joined Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc. (MMNA) executives in celebration on Friday January 17 as the first Mitsubishi Endeavor, a crossover SUV, rolled off the line at the company’s manufacturing facility in Normal, Ill.

Endeavor is the sixth model produced on a single assembly line at the facility, joining three other Mitsubishi products and two built for alliance partner DaimlerChrysler. MMNA says that no other auto plant in the country produces more models on a single line.

“Endeavor is a testament to the hard work of our employees, the flexibility of our manufacturing process and the commitment of our company to build vehicles in North America for North American consumers,” said MMNA Manufacturing Division President and Chief Operating Officer Rich Gilligan.

Gilligan presented the first Endeavor to USAF Col. Lee (Ret.), a former NASA astronaut and payload commander on the first Endeavour STS-47 space shuttle mission in 1992, and Space Center Chief Executive Officer Larry Capps.

“Our first Endeavour shuttle mission was a collaborative effort between the United States and Japan,” Lee said. “It’s exciting to see that spirit continue as Mitsubishi Motors kicks off its Project America initiative with an Endeavor launch of its own.”

Lee and Capps will take the donated vehicle to Huntsville, Ala., where Space Camp staff will use it as the official vehicle for their travel to schools and other venues throughout the country.

Endeavor is the first vehicle in Mitsubishi Motors’ Project America initiative, a $1.5 billion investment by the company to develop vehicles in North America specifically for the North American market. Endeavor was conceived at Mitsubishi Motors’ design center in Cypress, Calif., and much of the engineering work was done at Mitsubishi Motors’ research and development operation in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The Endeavor platform will serve as the underpinnings for future Project America vehicles, including the next generation Galant mid-sized sedan, Eclipse sport coupe and Eclipse Spyder convertible.

“The Endeavor is an all-new vehicle that makes a very Mitsubishi statement with its stylish design, spirited performance and bold character,” MMNA Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Pierre Gagnon said. “We hope this crossover injects excitement about our brand in the mid-size SUV category, which lately has become crowded with me-too products.”

MMNA expects to produce more than 60,000 Endeavors at the Illinois plant in 2003, among the more than 240,000 vehicles projected for the facility this year. The 2003 projections mark the highest total ever for the Illinois plant and an 18 percent increase over total production of approximately 203,000 units in 2002.