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DaimlerChrysler's legacy boosts Mitsubishi

DaimlerChrysler may have sold off what was left of its stake in loss-making Mitsubishi Motors in November, but the fruits of the ill-fated venture keep coming. On Tuesday, Mitsubishi will release the “i”, a stylish minicar designed by Olivier Boulay. The Frenchman was loaned to Mitsubishi as chief designer until DaimlerChrysler pulled the plug in June 2004 and recalled several executives back from Mitsubishi.

The i (see photo above) certainly looks the part, offering smooth lines and plenty of room inside. To create extra space, its 660cc three-cylinder, turbo-charged engine is located midship, while the wheelbase is a lengthy (for the class) 2.55m. By having no engine upfront it should also be relatively secure if involved in accidents.

Mitsubishi will hope the i follows the success of some of Boulay’s other designs, such as the latest Eclipse and the new Outlander SUV, which was released in Japan in October. The sporty Eclipse, which came out last summer, has sold well in the U.S. while Mistubishi is struggling to keep up with orders for the Outlander in Japan. So far, Mitsubishi tell me they have already received requests for 13,000 Outlanders—just shy of what was initially expected through to the end of March. The new Outlander will go on sale in the U.S. later this year.

How much the new vehicles will stem Mitsubishi’s losses, though, remains to be seen. The automaker expects to post a loss of around $650 million for the year to the end of March, before moving into the black in 2007. Still, without the new cars designed during the partnership with DaimlerChrysler, the Japanese automaker would be in a worse position.

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