SANTA BARBARA, CA – The midsize Raider pickup convinced just 410 buyers last month, but the auto maker has no plans to discontinue the truck, a Mitsubishi Motors North America Inc. senior executive says.

With long lags between production runs, Mitsubishi dealers now are beginning to receive ’07 Raiders, Daniel P. Kuhnert, MMSA senior vice president-sales, says.

And despite an annual selling rate of less than 5,000 units, Kuhnert says Mitsubishi Motors Corp. will not abandon the truck for which U.S. dealers once clamored.

“We will stay in that business, but we’ll stay in more strategically,” he says.

Mitsubishi will focus on cutting transaction prices by earmarking the “vast majority” of Raider production to a single LS trim level, one extended-cab and three Double Cab models.

The DuroCross trim will be offered only as a Double Cab with 2-wheel drive.

Approximately 80%-85% of ’07 Raider production will be LS models powered by the Chrysler Group-supplied 3.7L SOHC V-6.

Late in the year, Mitsubishi will offer an SE Double Cab using the 4.7L SOHC V-8 that formerly was exclusive to the Dodge Dakota, which runs down the same Warren, MI, assembly line.

Kuhnert, a former Mitsubishi dealer, says there are many reasons to stick with the Raider, despite disappointing volumes. For a decade, the dealer body asked the company for a pickup, and the incremental volume is important. Plus, the truck sells well in some regions.

Finally, he says, Mitsubishi does have a production contract with Chrysler.

Kuhnert concedes MMSA is reducing inventory of the Raider, but as with the rest of the U.S. industry, also is grappling with how to cut the number of vehicles on dealer lots.

“Inventories are high right now, but they’re manageable,” he says, adding most Asian-brand auto makers are coping with inventory that is 30-45 days higher than ideal.

Kuhnert says MMSA this week launched new customer-financing incentives that should help reduce inventories and spark showroom traffic.

The auto maker is offering 0% financing for 60 months on almost all ’06 models, except the popular Lancer Evolution, and this week initiated 0% financing for 48 months for the ’07 Galant, Eclipse and Endeavor.

“We’re not pushing huge discounts,” says Kuhnert, noting MMSA believes low-financing incentives bring a better buyer response than cash discounts.

He also says MMSA is seeing increased showroom traffic thanks to this month’s launch of the all-new Outlander cross/utility vehicle, which is bringing in a “whole new type of customer” that is cross-shopping the Mitsubishi CUV against Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. competitors.

bvisnic@wardsauto.com