Mitsubishi Motors Corp. in Japan makes planes, ships, construction equipment, heavy-duty trucks and electronics equipment.

But in the U.S., despite spending $1 billion on marketing during a 17-year period, Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America found that 56% of consumers didn't know the company makes passenger vehicles.

That's what Pierre Gagnon, executive vice president of MMSA, tells a meeting of the International Motor Press Association in New York.

Mr. Gagnon says Mitsubishi is refocusing its advertising and marketing effort to improve that situation. Part of the program involved consolidation of its advertising efforts, which were divided among seven agencies. It's now just one.

Mitsubishi's new advertising has adopted the slogan of "Spirited cars for spirited people." It will emphasize a fun to drive type of advertising campaign. The advertising will also carry the message that Mitsubishis are not me-too cars. "We chose to talk about the real reasons why people buy cars," Mr. Gagnon says.

Dealers are an important part of the new campaign. Mr. Gagnon says dealers will increase their advertising budget from $30 million in 1999 to $90 million in 2000. Those ads will carry the same theme as the overall national ad campaign.

Advertising will also be seen in more markets. In 1997, Mitsubishi focused its ads in 10 markets. In 2000, the advertising will spread to 150 markets. Mitsubishi itself spends over $100 million annually in advertising, Mr. Gagnon says.

In addition, MMSA's parent company has committed $1.4 billion to new core products. The new models will be designed in North America. A new Eclipse was unveiled in 2000 and an Eclipse Spyder convertible was previewed at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Mitsubishi will also introduce a new Montero SUV. All of these models will be rolled out over the next five months.

Mr. Gagnon says Mitsubishi sales will stay at about 250,000 units in 2000, up about 20,000 from 1999. He is predicting slower growth because he expects the overall market to decline from the all-time record of 1999.

However, Mr. Gagnon says the company is starting to talk about selling 400,000 units annually. "We need more products to get there," he adds.

Meanwhile Mitsubishi has managed to pare its incentives by $310 per unit this year. "We're not buying the business anymore," Mr. Gagnon says. But he admits that Mitsubishi brand loyalty is low compared to Honda and Toyota.

He feels that new products and more focused advertising can turn that around.