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Mitsubishi Motors out to wow emerging markets with Xpander

Seven-seater is designed for Indonesia but also aimed at Egypt and Bolivia

Mitsubishi Motors says its new Xpander multipurpose vehicle has one of the most comfortable interiors among cars in its class.

TOKYO -- Mitsubishi Motors is eager to cultivate emerging markets with its new Xpander multipurpose vehicle, with the Japanese carmaker aiming to launch sales of the seven-seater in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries first and then expand into such markets as Egypt and Bolivia.

The move comes as demand for van-like cars such as the Xpander is growing, especially in emerging countries.

Mitsubishi Motors will begin turning out the car at a new factory in Indonesia as early as September, targeting the domestic market. The company plans to begin sales in Thailand and the Philippines in February, and eventually expand to all of Southeast Asia.

Although Latin America and the Middle East are also in the company's sights, "We plan to sell 85% [of the new vehicles] in Indonesia, so the car is largely based on local needs," the company's chief product specialist said.

Bigger, quieter

Still, Mitsubishi Motors says the car is also suited to other emerging countries in the region, where traffic, road and weather conditions are often similar to those in Indonesia.

Furthermore, the company believes that, like in Indonesia, demand for cars that can accommodate big families or other large groups is strong elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

Based on feedback from dealerships across the region, the carmaker concluded that there is strong latent demand for multipurpose vehicles in emerging countries.

The Xpander is slightly larger than the compact varieties that are popular in Indonesia, with more interior space than rival models. To better cope with Indonesia's rainy climate, the bottom of the Xpander rests at least 205mm above the ground to give it ample clearance. The windows are also designed to offer better insulation against outside noise to provide a more comfortable driving experience when traveling in stormy conditions.

Mitsubishi Motors sees Indonesia as one of the most promising markets in Southeast Asia and began developing models especially for that country in 2014. To better understand the needs and lifestyles of drivers there, the company sent employees to the homes of Indonesians who owned cars made by rivals.

Heavy congestion means Indonesian drivers tend to spend a lot of time in traffic. To accommodate for this fact, Mitsubishi Motors equipped the Xpander with space near the doors and other locations for holding up to 16 bottles, a feature not seen in rival models.

About 70% of the multipurpose vehicles designed for the Indonesian market are aimed at families. Mitsubishi Motors controls about 6% of the overall market, selling mostly SUVs. By adding the new model, the company hopes to raise its share to 8% in fiscal 2017, which ends in March next year, and to 10% as soon as possible after that.

Some 20% of Mitsubishi Motors' global unit sales come from Southeast Asia. In fiscal 2016, its sales plunged due to fallout over the company's falsification of emissions data. The carmaker wants the Xpander to spearhead its sales recovery.

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