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UPDATE 1-AUTOSHOW-M'bishi Motors to export cars to China from US

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GENEVA, March 4 (Reuters) - Japan's Mitsubishi Motors Corp 7211.T will begin exporting the Eclipse sports car to China from its underused factory in the U.S. state of Illinois this year, its president said on Tuesday.

The struggling Japanese automaker last week announced a new medium-term business plan that counts on emerging markets such as Russia, Ukraine, China and the Middle East to make up for an expected fall in sales in Japan and North America.

“Globally, we’re running short of capacity at our factories,” President Osamu Masuko told Reuters in an interview at the Geneva International Motor Show.

“The exception is the United States, but we’re going to try to fill that by boosting exports, including by starting shipments to China.”

The company’s factory in Normal, Illinois, has annual production capacity of 110,000 vehicles, but now builds about 70,000 to 80,000 cars. It has been trying to fill the gap with exports to the Middle East, the Americas, Russia and Ukraine.

Masuko said the Eclipse would probably go on sale in China around October or November, with sales expected to hit about 1,000 units this year.

Mitsubishi Motors’ factories in Japan and Thailand are running at full tilt, while its Dutch plant will reach full production of 90,000 units this year, Masuko said. The company last month announced the closure of a loss-making factory in Australia.

The Japanese automaker also has an agreement with the Russian government, under which it has financial incentives to build a vehicle plant, but Masuko said it would approach a decision with caution to avoid past mistakes of over-hasty expansion.

“We don’t know anything about the market right now,” he said. “We have a full-time ex-pat there now gathering information, and we’ll also see how other Japanese carmakers make out in the market.”

He said a decision would likely be made this year. (Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim, editing by Will Waterman)

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