Mitsubishi Motors Corp. reported Thursday it had an operating profit of 6.8 billion yen in fiscal 2005, its first profit in three years and a sign the firm may finally be coming out from under the weight of its defect coverup debacle.

The results have pushed the carmaker’s operating profit back into the black a year earlier than expected.

The consolidated operating profit, a reversal of its 128.5 billion yen loss the previous year, is mainly due to cost-cutting efforts, strong domestic sales of two new models and a weaker, yen the firm said.

MMC’s net loss shrank to 92 billion yen, compared with a 474.8 billion yen loss a year ago.

But the automaker’s consolidated sales dipped 0.1 percent from the previous year to 2.12 trillion yen, mainly due to a decline in original equipment manufacturer sales in Europe and the U.S., it said.

Sales of vehicles in Japan were brisk, at 257,000 units, up 13.2 percent from the previous year, thanks to the popularity of the new Outlander sport utility vehicle released in October, and the new i minicar, which came out in January.

The Outlander was MMC’s first new completely new model in nearly 2 1/2 years.

“Judging from the sales of the Outlander and the i, we believe we have taken the first step toward regaining customer trust,” MMC President Osamu Masuko told reporters later Thursday.

He added that the carmaker would try to further boost sales in the current business year with updated eK Wagon, Pajero and Delica models.

Although sales in the U.S. fell 10.3 percent from the previous year to 156,000 units, European sales, including the Russian market, made up for the decline, the automaker said. Sales in Europe rose 10.8 percent from the previous year to 267,000 units.

For the current fiscal year ending next March, MMC is aiming for total sales of 1.4 million vehicles, a target it set forth in the revival plan it released in January 2005. The automaker is forecasting a net profit of 8 billion yen for the year.

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