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With No Buyers, Mitsubishi May Shutter Its Only U.S. Plant

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Back in July, we told you that Mitsubishi planned to stop building vehicles in the U.S. and sell off its only North American manufacturing facility. Unfortunately, the company hasn't yet found a buyer for the plant, and it now appears that the site could be closed for good. 

If that were to happen, it would be another blow to the economy of Normal, Illinois. Before the announcement last summer, workers at the factory had built the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, one of the company's more popular models with American shoppers. In November, the assembly lines ground to a halt, and 1,000 workers were laid off.

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Around 250 remain at the plant, building auto parts, but that work is slated to end in May. After that, the facility's future is uncertain.

Mitsubishi says that it has looked high and low for an automotive company to buy the plant -- and hopefully, keep Mitsubishi workers employed. To date, though, it's had no takers, and Mitsubishi has now officially given up hope of finding another owner among auto firms.

Company reps say that they will continue to search for buyers in other industries, but the prospects don't seem all that great. Reports in Japan's Nikkei newspaper say that Mitsubishi is planning to write off a loss of up to 30 billion yen ($255 million) this fiscal year because of the plant shut-down. Mitsubishi has't yet responded to those reports.

OUR TAKE

As we noted previously, Mitsubishi's shut-down of the plant isn't unexpected. The company is a small player in the U.S. market, selling fewer than 96,000 vehicles here in 2015. Though that's a nearly 23 percent jump from 2014, it only accounts for 0.5 percent of all U.S. sales.

(Mass-market brands like Fiat [0.2 percent] and Smart [0.04 percent] performed worse last year, but in their defense, they lack the range of Mitsubishi's lineup, so their appeal is naturally more limited. Also, both Fiat and Smart have larger sibling brands to buoy them financially; Mitsubishi doesn't.)

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In other words, it makes little sense for Mitsubishi to base production in a country and on a continent where it's not performing especially well. Mitsubishi's strongest sales are in Asia, and that's where it's refocusing much of its production, with other outposts in South America and Russia.

Bottom line: you could argue that Mitsubishi's plant closure was, in some ways, long overdue. The real question may be how much longer Mitsubishi plans to continue selling in the U.S. at all.

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