North American Int’l Auto ShowDETROIT – Hoping to pump up flagging sales, Mitsubishi Motors North America Inc. is preparing to launch the third-generation convertible version of its popular Eclipse sport coupe , currently the only bright spot in its product lineup.

The ’07 Eclipse Spyder goes on sale in March in the U.S., and pricing will start below $26,000, David Schembri, MMNA executive vice president-sales and marketing, says at Monday’s unveiling of the convertible here at the North American International Auto Show. (See related story: Mitsubishi to Unveil Eclipse Spyder in Detroit)

The Japanese auto maker desperately needs to generate some excitement. U.S. sales are down significantly for every product in Mitsubishi’s lineup, with the exception of the Eclipse.

Mitsubishi sold 24,487 Eclipses in 2005, up 26.5% from 2004’s figure of 19,361, according to Ward’s data. The new Eclipse coupe launched in spring 2005.

Mitsubishi Concept-CT

U.S. light truck sales for Mitsubishi were 38,208 in 2005, down 28.4% from 53,392 in 2004. (See related story: Mitsubishi Raider Sales Lackluster)

Car sales in 2005 for Mitsubishi were 86,472, down 20.6% from 108,937 in 2004, according to Ward’s data.

The Eclipse, Eclipse Spyder and Raider are among six new products Mitsubishi will launch over a 30-month period.

Launching this fall is an all-new Outlander, followed by the new Lancer in early 2007 and a new Lancer Evolution 10 in early 2008.

Schembri declines to offer a sales projection for the Eclipse Spyder, but he says the auto maker expects about 30% of Eclipses sold to be convertibles.In past years, up to 50% of Eclipse sales were convertibles, Schembri says.

“We have a very flexible manufacturing facility in Normal, IL, that varies between (the) Eclipse, Endeavor and Galant, so we’re flexible to adjust our production to consumer demand,” he says.

The Eclipse Spyder comes with two powertrain options, including a 2.4L 4-cyl. that produces 162 hp, mated to a 5-speed manual transmission or an optional 4-speed automatic.

The Eclipse Spyder GT comes with a 3.8L 260-hp V-6 mated to a standard 6-speed manual gearbox or an optional 5-speed automatic.

Schembri says he expects about a 50-50 split between 4-cyl. and V-6 sales for the new Spyder.

Also Monday, Mitsubishi unveils its Concept-CT, an ultra-compact 4-door hatchback designed at Mitsubishi Motors Design Center in Cypress, CA.

The car features light-emitting diode head lamps and taillamps and rear doors that open butterfly-style.

The concept gets its propulsion from the Mitsubishi In-wheel Electric Vehicle (MIEV) powertrain configuration, which places an electric motor in each of the vehicle’s four wheels.

The series/parallel hybrid drive in the Concept-CT uses a special transmission to harness the 67-hp output from a 1.0L 3-cyl. gasoline engine to drive the rear wheels and the generator, Mitsubishi says. Engine power is 20kW per wheel.

tmurphy@primediabusiness.com