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Carmakers expand their joint venture

Chrysler Corp. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. of Japan deepened their relationship last week with an announcement they will build a new generation of cars at their joint-venture plant in Illinois. The companies declined to say when the Diamond-Star Motors Corp. plant in Normal, Ill., would start producing the cars. They also declined to release details of the new vehicles, saying only that the line would include two- and three-door sporty cars and a four-door sedan.

Chrysler officials have said the company was talking with Mitsubishi about building a new vehicle to replace the Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon subcompact cars the No. 3 American automaker axed in February.

However, a Chrysler source speaking on condition of anonymity said Thursday the new car for the Diamond-Star plant would not be an Omni-Horizon replacement. He said the two-door coupe would be a new model not now made at the plant.

Diamond-Star makes the Mitsubishi Eclipse and Mirage, the Plymouth Laser and the Eagle Talon and Summit. The Eclipse, Laser and Talon are two-door sports cars and the Mirage and Summit are four-door sedans.

The official also said the new cars will use more domestic parts than the current Diamond-Star cars, which contain about 60 percent U.S. parts.

"On average, the (domestic content of the) new models will be significantly improved," the official said, without giving specifics. The increase will come from more use of Chrysler engines and transmissions, a joint statement from the two companies said.

The companies said they will split their share of the vehicles about 50-50. Chrysler currently gets about 55 percent of the Diamond-Star-produced cars.

The two companies each own 50 percent of Diamond-Star. Chrysler owns 12.1 percent of Mitsubishi.

The first Diamond-Star cars, the Eclipse and Laser, began rolling off the assembly line Sept. 1, 1988. The look-alike Talon was added next, and the Summit and Mirage came later.

In addition to Diamond-Star, Chrysler and Mitsubishi are linked through the Dodge and Plymouth Colt line of small cars made by Mitsubishi. The Dodge Stealth, a new sports car for the 1991 model year, also is designed and built by Mitsubishi with the exception of the outer body panels, which Chrysler designed.