MMC chief sees rough road ahead for autos

by Hiroko Nakata

Mitsubishi Motors Corp. President Osamu Masuko said Monday that the auto industry can expect to face a harsher business environment over the next few years.

Factors behind the grim outlook include global financial uncertainty, the rising cost of raw materials, and the need for greater spending on research and development, he said.

“The global economy has been very good for the past four to five years,” Masuko said in a speech delivered at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo. “All the factors that have supported economic growth are unstable now, and I can’t see where it (the turmoil) will end,” he said.

Masuko said the company’s midterm strategy would be to continue to focus on emerging markets.

After being battered by massive recalls and the loss of support from DaimlerChrysler, MMC’s revitalization plan between 2005 and 2007 succeeded on the back of rapidly growing markets in Russia, Ukraine, Brazil, Australia and the Middle East, Masuko said.

“We will continue to focus on emerging markets, since they have higher growth in automobile sales than that in industrialized nations,” Masuko said. He added that automobile ownership rates still have room to expand in these growing economies.

Masuko said he hopes the iMiev electric vehicle, which MMC plans to launch in Japan in 2009, will become a key profit-generator.