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DETROIT (Reuters) - Mitsubishi Motors Corp, faced with declining U.S. demand and an expiring union contract at its only plant in North America, declined to comment Thursday on a report that it planned to end auto production in this country.
Japan's Nikkei news service said the plan to cease production at Mitsubishi's plant in Normal, Illinois, is part of a strategic shift to the growing Asian market.
The company has "no statement," said a spokesperson for Mitsubishi Motors North America.
The Nikkei report said Mitsubishi, one of Japan's smallest automakers, would look for a buyer for the plant, which opened in 1988 as a joint venture between Mitsubishi and its then-partner, Chrysler. The report also said Mitsubishi would begin negotiations with labor representatives to maintain employment for the plant's 918 workers, who are represented by the United Auto Workers union.
Normal Mayor Chris Koos, in an email on Thursday afternoon, said, "I have heard nothing, and am trying to get information" from the plant, which is located about 140 miles southwest of Chicago.
Kyle Young, vice president of UAW Local 2488, which represents the plant's workers, said the union's contract expires in August.
"We haven't heard anything," he said in a phone interview. "We're supposed to have negotiations coming up" on a new contract. In the meantime, "it's business as usual here - we're pumping out cars."
The Normal plant is the only Japanese-owned U.S. auto factory whose hourly workers are represented by the UAW.
At its peak in the early 2000s, the Normal plant built more than 200,000 cars a year. Last year, production of the Outlander Sport utility vehicle totaled 69,178, according to Mitsubishi.
On its website, Mitsubishi said it contributes $120 million a year to the local economy in taxes, salaries and benefits.
Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Detroit; Editing by Dan Grebler and David Gregorio