AMSTERDAM - Mitsubishi's Spacestar has staked out the low end of the emerging compact minivan market. If successful, the vehicle will raise the company's profile in Europe and raise unit sales from 190,000 last year to 240,000 next year.
Mitsubishi spent $500 million to develop production facilities for the Spacestar at the NedCar joint venture plant with Volvo. Sometime after Spacestar production begins in the summer, Mitsubishi will be taking more than half of NedCar's production for the first time.
The car will be built on a new platform smaller than the Carisma, Mitsubishi's first European car. The Spacestar 'will be cheaper than the Carisma,' said Hans Tolenaar, managing director of Mitsubishi Motor Sales Nederland. The Carisma costs $17,500 in the Netherlands.
The Spacestar will be smaller than the Renault Megane Scenic, Toyota Picnic and GM Zafira.
Chris Dewulf, president of NedCar said the Spacestar is the first vehicle to use the new platform. The five-seat Spacestar itself won't be sold outside Europe. Pilot production has started at NedCar, after testing in Mitsubishi's Mitsushima pilot plant in Japan.
Some production processes for the Spacestar are new at NedCar, because it uses more outsourced parts, including welded sub-assemblies. Capacity for Spacestar is 50,000 with two shifts, 'but we could increase to 70,000 with a third shift,' said Dewulf.
Next year NedCar plans to build 90,000 Carismas, 50,000 Spacestars and over 100,000 Volvo S40 and V40 models.
Mitsubishi will show two versions of the car at Geneva: One will be in near-production trim, the other will be a more aggressive styling exercise. Two engines are offered: the 1.8-liter GDI which also powers the Carisma, and a 16-valve, 1.3-liter, single-camshaft engine.
The company describes the car as having a 'semi-tall profile.'
'It should really be seen as a car in between the Renault Megane hatchback and Scenic,' said spokesman Martin Doernbrack.
'The Spacestar is not revolutionary,' said Tolenaar. Customers wanted 'a multipurpose vehicle which would offer more.'