Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc. (MMNA) has today announced plans for a $200 million expansion of its manufacturing facility in Normal, Ill., increasing the plant’s capacity 25 percent from 240,000 to 300,000 units and creating an estimated 300 new jobs.

“Expanding our Illinois manufacturing operation is part of our commitment to design and build more vehicles in North America,” said MMNA Chairman and CEO Pierre Gagnon. “We’re entering the next phase of our North American growth strategy by launching more new products and increasing our investment in the region.”

The plant expansion will support the production of Endeavor, and other future Mitsubishi products riding the same all-new platform, including the next-generation Galant mid-sized sedan that will be unveiled next month at the New York International Auto Show.

The announcement comes as Mitsubishi Motors continues evaluating additional plans for increasing local production of vehicles sold in the North American market. The company is studying further options for increasing capacity that could include utilising available production capacity at one of alliance partner DaimlerChrysler North American plants, expanding the Illinois facility even further or potentially building a new plant, with a decision expected by this summer.

“Our goal is to produce more vehicles in the markets where they are sold,” said Steven Torok, executive vice president of international car operations for Mitsubishi Motors Corporation in Tokyo. “Adding capacity makes sense based on the success of the Mitsubishi Motors brand in the United States and our continuing expansion throughout North America.”

Mitsubishi Motors says it has achieved an 81 percent increase in U.S. sales over the past four years and is working toward further growth in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico by 2007. Mitsubishi-brand vehicles went on sale for the first time in Canada in September 2002 and in Mexico in January 2003.

The company expects to break ground on the expansion in April and complete construction in the autumn of 2004.

“This expansion is a testament to the hard work of our employees, the quality of our manufacturing process and the commitment of our company to the North American market,” said MMNA Manufacturing Division President and COO Rich Gilligan. “This is great news for our company and the state of Illinois.”

Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich praised the company’s decision to increase investment in Central Illinois.

“Illinois and Mitsubishi Motors are working together to bring jobs and economic opportunity to the state,” Gov. Blagojevich said. “I applaud Mitsubishi for its commitment to Illinois and to the hard working men and women who make an exemplary product at the Normal plant.”

The plant recently began production of the Mitsubishi Endeavor crossover S.U.V., the first vehicle in Mitsubishi Motors’ Project North 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 centre in Cypress, Calif., and much of the engineering work was done at Mitsubishi Motors’ research and development operation in Ann Arbor, Mich. Endeavor is one of six models produced on one assembly line at the Illinois facility, joining Galant, Eclipse and Eclipse Spyder and two models built for alliance partner DaimlerChrysler. No other auto plant in the country produces more models from a single line.

The current facility is 2 million square feet and covers 636 acres. The expansion announced today will add another 400,000 square feet and follows a recent 170,000-square-foot addition to the facility to accommodate production of Endeavor.