Mitsubishi Motors posts record profit; sees Thai recovery this year
* Thai sales drop offset by growth in most other markets
* Expects Thai sales to recover this financial year
* Southeast Asia to play key role for profit -executive
* Likely to hit mid-term operating profit goal early
TOKYO, April 24 (Reuters) - Mitsubishi Motors Corp nearly doubled its operating profit for the year ended March to an all-time high of 123.4 billion yen ($1.2 billion) as a drop in Thai sales was offset by growing sales in most other regions around the world.
The Japanese automaker now expects to hit its mid-term annual operating profit target of 135 billion yen in this financial year to March 2015, two years earlier than planned.
Mitsubishi's Thai sales fell about 40 percent in the last financial year to around 85,000 vehicles as the country's auto market has been in decline since a subsidy scheme ended in 2012 and because of prolonged political crisis.
The automaker expects Thai sales to bounce back in the latter half of this financial year with the autumn launch of a remodelled version of its best-selling Triton pickup truck. Mitsubishi aims to boost full-year sales there by 20 percent to 101,500 vehicles.
"We expect our business in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) to be fairly smooth this financial year and the region will continue to serve as a pillar to our profits," President Osamu Masuko told a news conference on Thursday.
Southeast Asia accounts for a quarter of Mitsubishi's global sales. The automaker plans to expand sales in the region by 44 percent over three years to end-March 2017 by expanding local production capacity and launching new models.
Other than in Thailand, sales grew in most other markets. Mitsubishi sold a record 93,000 vehicles in Indonesia, up 7 percent, thanks to rising purchasing power, while in Europe, sales grew 11 percent to 202,000 vehicles helped by the new Outlander plug-in hybrid SUV.
Global sales have been helped in recent quarters by a depreciation in the yen which makes Japan-made exports cheaper for overseas buyers and increases the value of overseas revenue when converted into yen. Against the U.S. dollar alone, the yen has fallen around 10 percent since April last year.
In the fourth quarter to March, operating profit rose 2 percent to 27.1 billion yen.
The second-tier Japanese car maker is set to pay a 25 yen dividend for the just-ended financial year, for its first dividend in more than 16 years.
The dividend would come after the automaker repaid major shareholders for a 2004 bailout, leaving behind an arduous decade that had threatened its standing in the competitive global auto industry.
($1 = 102.3850 Japanese Yen) (Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Christopher Cushing)
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