In a telephone conference call with journalists on his first day as the new CEO of Mitsubishi Motors‘ North American arm, former Hyundai American head Finbarr O’Neill said Mitsubishi would target car buyers by showcasing its models and relying less on sales to fleets, such as rental car companies, to shore up sales volumes, according to The Detroit News.

“It will take time, but basically we’ll get there product by product, and customer by customer,” O’Neill reportedly said.

The Detroit News noted that, under O’Neill’s leadership, Hyundai’s sales surged 400% since 1998, helped in part by quality gains, enhanced warranty coverage, and a positive rebound in Hyundai’s image.

The paper also noted that the Irish-born executive will emerge as one of the most promising managers in the DaimlerChrysler empire if he can work similar magic at Mitsubishi, controlled 37% by DC.

The Detroit News said Mitsubishi’s US sales have slumped 22% this year, partly because of poor quality ratings, while efforts to drum up business by offering easier credit and increasing low-margin sales to fleets backfired and the North American operations lost $US95 million in the first quarter.

Steve Torok, head of international sales for Mitsubishi, told the Detroit News the worst was over and added that sales will show strong gains for August. Fleet shipments, which took 40% of sales in the first quarter, are down sharply and the company has also restructured its credit arm and tightened lending requirements, he reportedly added.

The Endeavor sport utility vehicle launched in March is part of a product offensive aimed at taking on the Japanese leaders in the US market and, in October, Mitsubishi will launch a new Galant mid-sized sedan, the Detroit News said.

“It’s time for the company to move up to a higher tier on the competitive ladder,” Torok told the Detroit News, adding: “We’re not out to take on Toyota, Honda or even Nissan’s volumes but … we intend to have every bit as powerful an image, and in the segments we’re in, every bit as competitive products.”

O’Neill told the newspaper his priority is to sound out customers and dealers.

“There are challenges here,” he said, according to the Detroit News, adding: “But the product is excellent, the quality is improving and the basic building blocks are in place for this franchise to be successful.”