BAIRO CANAVESE, Italy - Mitsubishi Motors has added a second production base and a third locally-built product in Europe.
The first Mitsubishi Pajero Pinin compact sport-utility rolled off the line at Pininfarina's new plant here on 6 July.
Mitsubishi invested $140 million to develop the Pajero Pinin and set up the production line. It shares features with the Pajero Io, which was introduced in Japan in June 1998.
Installed capacity for the Pajero Pinin is about 35,000 units - to be reached in 2000. Pininfarina will make 11,000 Pajero Pinins by the end of this year.
Sales will begin in September in Italy. Deliveries in Spain, Germany, Portugal, the UK, Austria, Belgium and Switzerland will follow soon after. Prices have not been announced, but they are expected to range from L38 million to L50 million (euro 19,605 to euro 25,780).
Out of next year's total output, 8,200 Pajero Pinins are planned for Italy, 6,500 for Germany, 6,000 for the UK and 4,000 for Spain.
Mitsubishi also builds the Carisma sedan and Space Star compact minivan at its NedCar joint venture with Volvo Car Corp. in Born, the Netherlands.
In 1998 Mitsubishi built 92,000 Carisma and Space Stars in Europe. Its NedCar output should rise to 130,000 units this year.
'It would have been easy for us to simply import the Japanese version of the Pajero Pinin,' said Katsuhiko Kawasoe, chairman of Mitsubishi Motors Corp. 'However, we decided to collaborate with Pininfarina, recognizing the company's manufacturing capacity and expertise.'
Kawasoe and Pininfarina Group Chairman Sergio Pininfarina said the Pajero Pinin is just the first phase of cooperation between the two companies. Once they are used to working with each other, they will undertake more ventures together, both men said.
'I am particularly grateful to Mitsubishi for its idea to combine the name Pajero - which has great prestige - with 1/8Pinin',' said Sergio Pininfarina. 'That was my father's nickname, and it makes the new vehicle much closer to us.'
Kawasoe said Mitsubishi wants to increase its ties with European automakers. Besides the NedCar and Pininfarina agreements, it recently licensed its GDI gasoline direct injection technology to Peugeot.
Meanwhile, Fiat will launch a compact sport-utility derived from the Pajero Pinin in 2001. (see story on this page).
European Union content of the Pajero Pinin is 75 percent, with the majority of parts coming from Italy. Sixty European suppliers are involved, of which 40 are Italian.
The Pajero Pinin's 1.8-liter, four-cylinder GDI engine is imported from Japan, as are the gearbox, the complete transmission, the suspension and the exhaust system. The exterior styling mirrors the Japanese Io, but the interior is specific to Europe and was designed and engineered by Pininfarina.
The Pajero Pinin will initially only be available in a 3670mm-long three-door version.
A five-door version, already available in Japan, will be added in autumn 2000. The five-door is 3970mm long, with the wheelbase stretched from 2280mm to 2450mm.
Mitsubishi is considering offering a turbodiesel-engined version for Europe, but no decision has been taken. A canvas top derived from the three-door is currently under evaluation.
Body-in-white construction and painting is carried out at Pininfarina's main Grugliasco plant, near Turin. The vehicle is fully trimmed in the new San Giorgio Canavese plant.
Pininfarina will dedicate 600 direct workers to the Pajero Pinin, of which 250 will be newly-hired. The San Giorgio Canavese plant will employ 450 of that total, with the remainder in Grugliasco. This increases the total Pininfarina Group workforce to 2,700 people.
The Pajero Pinin will eventually represent almost half of Industrie Pininfarina output and around 45 percent of turnover, said Andrea Pininfarina, managing director and general manager of Industrie Pininfarina.
Along with the Pajero Pinin, Pininfarina builds the Bentley Azure, Fiat Coupe, Lancia K station wagon, and the Peugeot 306 cabriolet and 406 coupe.
Pininfarina production rose to a record 46,586 units in 1998. It is expected to increase still further to 70,000 next year.