Mitsubishi Motors unveils Lancer Evo X, eyes growth

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TOKYO, Oct 1 (Reuters) Japan's Mitsubishi Motors Corp took the wraps off the latest incarnation of its iconic Lancer Evolution sports sedan on Monday, as the struggling automaker aims to pave a path to stable growth.

After spending years fixing its tattered finances, the Tokyo-based automaker is counting on new products such as the remodelled Outlander sport utility vehicle and Lancer sedan to fuel a global sales rise this year.

The 10th generation Lancer Evolution X, a series which the company has traditionally packed with its latest vehicle technologies, is expected to help increase showroom traffic when it hits dealerships in Japan on Monday and in overseas markets starting in February.

''Since the launch of the first generation in 1992, we've unsparingly loaded this car with the newest advanced features,'' President Osamu Masuko said at the car's launch in Tokyo.

Lancer Evolution X features several new technologies.

The Twin Clutch SST, a six-speed automated manual transmission, uses a dual automated clutch system that delivers smooth shifting automatically, enabling sporty driving without manual shifting down a winding road. Only Volkswagen AG has a similar dual-clutch system.

An improved brake-assist system regulates drive torque and braking force at each wheel to better reflect the driver's intent, as well as making the car safer on slippery surfaces.

The Lancer Evolution X is powered by a newly developed 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that is lighter and less polluting than a previous version.

By the end of the business year on March 31, Mitsubishi Motors expects to sell 4,000 of the cars in Japan and 2,300 in North America after a February launch. The model will be exported from its Mizushima factory in Japan to Europe and other markets starting in the 2008/09 business year, Masuko said.

The five-speed manual transmission version starts at just under 3 million yen (,080) in Japan, while the twin clutch version costs 3.75 million yen (,600).

Mitsubishi Motors is due to announce a new plan for medium-term growth by next March, after scoring a net profit last year for the first time in four years.

The automaker said its vehicle sales in Japan plunged 19 percent in September to 22,500. Volumes were dragged down by a 32 percent slide in sales of its 660cc minivehicles, industry data showed on Monday. Sales of other Mitsubishi vehicles grew 18 percent in a non-minivehicle market that shrank 9.5 percent last month.

Shares in Mitsubishi Motors ended up 5.1 percent at 184 yen after the company on Friday tripled its group operating profit forecast for the half-year that ended on Sept. 30 due to stronger overseas sales and a weaker yen.

REUTERS SR BD1550

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