NORMAL – Nearly 60 percent of the Outlander Sports made at the Mitsubishi Motors North America plant last year were sent overseas.

The Normal plant built 67,362 of the crossover SUVs during 2013, a jump from the 37,019 vehicles made in 2012, though the plant was retooled for several months that year, limiting production. About 58 percent of vehicles produced in 2013 — or more than 42,000 — were exported.

That export number wasn’t a surprise, said MMNA General Manager Dan Irvin.

“The Outlander Sport is a global model with global appeal. This was intentional on the part of the designers,” Irvin said Friday.

The Outlander Sport is the only Mitsubishi vehicle produced in the U.S., Irvin said. The vehicle is exported from Normal to 25 other countries around the world, including Russia, Mexico and Kuwait.

Crossover sport utility vehicles such as the Outlander Sport are popular exports because of their light weight and fuel economy, said Bernard Swiecki, an analyst for the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. The $19,500, five-seat Outlander Sport gets about 31 miles per gallon.

“We are noticing an increase in the proportion of U.S. products being exported,” he said, adding that exporting has increased in recent years because of the weakness of the dollar and trade agreements being established between countries.

Swiecki said a plant exporting nearly 60 percent of the vehicles it produces would be considered high, but added because each vehicle is different it’s difficult to make comparisons.

The Normal plant has produced the crossover SUV since 2012. Prior to that, it built the Eclipse, Spyder, Galant and Endeavor SUV.

Irvin estimated that less than 35 percent of the vehicles produced in Normal prior to 2012 were exported.

“We get the impression that fuel-efficient, safe vehicles are gaining an ever larger share of the market. We’re being told by consumer purchases that that’s what they want as opposed to flashy, high-performing vehicles with fuel efficiency that isn’t as good,” he said.

Irvin sees the trend of increased production and exports continuing this year.

“But there’s no crystal ball. It’s difficult to say but the trend is improving and the global economy is only improving so I don’t see any signs that things would head the other direction,” Irvin said.

MMNA reported 2013 U.S. sales of 62,227, a 7.7 percent increase from the 57,790 vehicles sold in 2012. About 40 percent of those — 24,951 — were Outlander Sports.

pshaver@pantagraph.com

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