UPDATE: Mitsubishi Closing Normal Plant, Will Attempt To Sell Facility
Mitsubishi Motors says it will close its only U.S. production facility in Normal by May of next year. Company officials told workers this morning the phase-out will begin in November, and that the company will assist in trying to find a buyer for the plant.
Annual production at the factory has fallen to 64,000 vehicles from more than 200,000 in 2002. Mitsubishi only sold 82,000 vehicles in the US last year, less than 1-percent of the total market.
Kent Ferguson of Urbana is a tool and die maker at the central Illinois plant. He was one of the hundreds of workers gathered to hear company eecutives make the announcement. He told public radio station WGLT, "Production will end in November and the phase-out will continue into May and typically production ends. The people that do that go, and after that skilled trades hang around for a while to help close it out."
Mitsubishi spokesman Dan Irvin said in a statement the company has reviewed its global supply chain and decided to end its U.S. production. The plant in Normal builds Mitsubishi's best-selling model, the Outlander Sport. There are currently about 1,200 employees at the plant in Normal. At its peak, the facility employeed about 3,000 workers.
Ferguson says workers never really bought into speculation that the threat to sell the plant was just a bargaining ploy in upcoming talks with union workers.
"I don't think anyone ever figured this was a negotiating ploy," he said. "I think, the fact that we're not making many cars and that fact that the car we do make is made overseas also, and they're opening plants in southeast Asia and they've really been working toward getting themselves in the Asian market."
Ferguson, who began working at the plant shortly after it opened in 1988, says he's not sure what he'll do next.
The following statement was released by the company:
"Following a review of Mitsubishi Motor Corporation's global supply chain, we have been informed it is necessary to end production and seek a strategic buyer for the Normal plant. MMC's Board will make a formal decision in the near future and our focus right now is to identify a buyer who would continue to operate and maintain employment - the best potential outcome for our employees and the community. Today, we shared this news with our employees and our intent to work in partnership with the UAW and civic leaders over the coming months to achieve a successful result. The North American market remains a priority for Mitsubishi Motors. We will continue to sell Mitsubishi cars, including current and planned models, at Mitsubishi dealerships across the United States."
The Japanese news provider Nikkei says the company would be the first mayor Japanese automaker to end production in both the US and Europe.