NORMAL -- The Mitsubishi Motors Corp. plant in central Illinois has sharply increased production and exports with the success of the Outlander Sport crossover SUV, the only vehicle the automaker is currently producing in the United States.
The Mitsubishi Motors North America plant in the city of Normal built more than 67,000 of the vehicles during 2013. That was an increase of more than 80 percent over the previous year, when production was limited by several months of work to retool the plant.
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Nearly 60 percent of the Outlander Sport SUVs that came out of the plant last year were sent abroad, to 25 countries including Russia, Mexico and Kuwait, The (Bloomington) Pantagraph reported Saturday.
Plant General Manager Dan Irvin tells the newspaper that was the plan, calling the vehicle "a global model with global appeal" because of its fuel economy. It gets about 31 miles to the gallon.
Irvin said it is the only Mitsubishi vehicle made in the U.S.
"We get the impression that fuel-efficient, safe vehicles are gaining an ever larger share of the market," Irvin said. "We're being told by consumer purchases that that's what they want as opposed to flashy, high-performing vehicles with fuel efficiency that isn't as good."
The plant has been making the Outlander Sport since 2012. Prior to that, Irvin estimated the plant's exports were less than 35 percent. Before the Outlander Sport, The Normal plant made the Eclipse, Spyder, Galant and Endeavor SUV.
Irvin expects more increases in production and exports for 2014.
Bernard Swiecki, an analyst for the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., said crossover sport utility vehicles are popular exports because of their light weight and fuel economy.
"We are noticing an increase in the proportion of U.S. products being exported," Swiecki said.
He said the weakness of the dollar and trade agreements have also helped to boost exports.