NEW YORK – Two new SUVs will bear Mitsubishi Motors Corp. badging with the introduction here of the ’03 Outlander and the promise of another – to be built at the plant in Normal, IL – due in nine months.

The second, as-yet unnamed SUV due in January or February of 2003, is the first of a new platform family to be built in the U.S., says Pierre Gagnon, president and chief operating officer of Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America Inc.

It was designed for the North American market as part of a program known as Project America. The platform also will yield the new Galant in first quarter 2004 and the Eclipse in early 2005.

With the addition of the SUV, Gagnon says the Normal plant will see its capacity grow from 200,000 units today to about 260,000 – which is as far as it can be pushed. The facility already has increased its pace from 40 jobs per hour to 65.

Meanwhile, the entry-level Outlander SUV goes on sale this summer, starting at $19,000, with anticipated annual sales of 40,000, says Gagnon.

Outlander is the North American version of the 5-passenger Air Trek in Japan, and both will be assembled in Japan.

Compared with the Air Trek, the Outlander is higher, with styling changes including a new front end and new interior console. Powertrain tweaks include different engine torque and gear ratios.

While there are a couple engine options for Air Trek in Japan, Outlander has but one powertrain choice; all come with a 2.4L, 16-valve, inline 4-cyl. engine mated to a 4-speed Sportronic transmission that operates as a traditional automatic or with clutchless shifts. It delivers 140 hp at 5,000 rpm.

Consumers can opt for either front- or all-wheel drive, each available in two trim levels. The unibody has 4-wheel independent suspension supports.

The compact SUV has flexible seating; the split, flat-folding rear seats fold down to expand the cargo space. The hydraulically assisted rear-lift gate takes one-hand to open. As part of its desired appeal to the young, its optional tubular roof rack can be adapted to carry bikes, surfboards, skis or other gear.

MMSA also uses the New York auto show to debut the ’03 Montero luxury SUV. The flagship is more refined, gains more power with a new, throttle-by-wire controlled 3.8L V-6 engine. Off-road capability is enhanced with the 5-speed Sportronic transmission and ActiveTrac system for a choice of 2-wheel drive, AWD or 4WD.

The designed grille and side body cladding provide a sleeker appearance.