MITSUBISHI'S NEW CEO LOOKS TO CURB SALES DECLINES

Carmaker's Youthful Ads to Now Target Consumers of All Ages

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- The new CEO of Mitsubishi Motors North America spoke to the media today and expressed optimism for the troubled automaker.

Unexpected departure
Finnbar O'Neill unexpectedly left Hyundai

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Motor America over the weekend after 18 years at the Korean carmaker and replaced Pierre Gagnon at Mitsubishi. Mr. Gagnon, Mitsubishi said, resigned to pursue other interests. There was no word from Hyundai as to a successor for Mr. O'Neill.

Speaking to the press in a teleconference, Mr. O'Neill today said, "Mitsubishi is poised for success," he said. The carmaker has a strong brand identity and a "cool, youthful image."

Sales skid
Mr. O'Neill is hoping that image will help stem a recent sales decline. Mitsubishi's U.S. vehicle sales skidded by nearly 22% this July to 161,738 units vs. a year ago, according to AdAge.com sibling Automotive News.

Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, Los Angeles, has been Mitsubishi's advewrtising agency for nearly five years. The agency has created commercials that feature songs from known and uknown bands (in one case, the ad acted as the band's U.S. debut) and show young people in Mitsubishi cars or sport utility vehicles driving on city streets.

New ad approach
Mr. O'Neill said Mitsubishi's positioning of "spirited cars for spirited people" is targeted not just at young buyers but spirited consumers of all ages. "You'll see our creative adjust to that reality" and ads will be "fully aligned with our product strategy," Mr. O'Neill said. "The car is the star, as far as I'm concerned." He added that ads will offer more information about vehicle features and reasons to buy a Mitsubishi.

He said the marketer's ads have already been tweaked. Mitsubishi recently redid the TV launch spots for its new Endeavor SUV. While the updated work still showed the SUV's exterior, it added scenes showing a family with children watching the popular animated cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants on a backseat DVD player.

Financing woes
Mitsubishi is also still reeling from financing extended to poor credit risks attracted to zero-percent financing deals that began in 1998 and continued until recently. Steve Torok, co-chairman of Mitsubishi North America, said during today's teleconference that the automaker's U.S. financing arm has restructured its credit division in the last few months and improved lending policies. He also declined to reveal specifics of the percentage of new-vehicle sales Mitsubishi now makes to fleets, such as car rental companies, though he did say it was "significantly below the 30% to 40%" fleet sales Mitsubishi confirmed earlier this year for its outgoing Galant model.

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