* Automaker seeks 44 pct rise in SE Asia sales over 3 years
* Plans to double capacity to 100,000 vehicles per year (Adds company confirmation, industry context)
By Yoko Kubota
TOKYO, March 31 (Reuters) - Japan’s Mitsubishi Motors Corp said it has bought the site of a former auto plant in the Philippines from Ford Motor Co, beefing up production as it targets a near-50 percent sales boost in fast-growing Southeast Asia markets.
Mitsubishi Motors, the second-biggest automaker in the Philippines by sales volume after Toyota Motor Corp, said on Monday it will centre its Philippines production at the plant in Laguna from January 2015. The plant will have an annual capacity of about 50,000 vehicles, gradually rising to around 100,000 vehicles.
As part of the strategy, the auto maker will close and sell its ageing existing Philippines plant in Rizal, spokeswoman Tomoko Kawabe said. Mitsubishi Motors declined to say how much it paid to buy the Laguna plant, where Ford made sports utility vehicles until December 2012.
The move by Mitsubishi Motors, maker of Triton pickup trucks and Outlander SUVs, adds to growing competition among global car makers in the populous Southeast Asia region, dominated by Toyota and other Japanese car makers.
“We are planning to prepare for future growth in the Philippines, whose auto market is likely to continue grow sustainably,” the company said in a statement.
For second-tier car makers like Mitsubishi Motors and Suzuki Motor Corp, Southeast Asia offers a major opportunity as they seek to compensate for shrinking sales in their ageing domestic market. The region now accounts for a quarter of Mitsubishi Motors’ global vehicle sales.
Mitsubishi Motors has a plan to expand regional sales by 44 percent over three years to end-March 2017. In the Philippines it currently makes vehicles including the Lancer EX sedan and the Adventure SUV.
Non-Japanese car makers are also seeking to build up their regional presence. Last year, Volkswagen AG set up distribution channels in Philippines, while General Motors has been stepping up its efforts to sell cars in the region including Indonesia.
Shares in Mitsubishi Motors rose 1.9 percent in morning trade to 1,077 yen, outperforming the Nikkei benchmark’s 0.4 percent gain. (Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Dominic Lau, Paul Tait and Kenneth Maxwell)