NORMAL - Mitsubishi Motors North America has lost two top marketing officials, just weeks before the company will push the sale of two redesigned vehicles.
Hiroshi Harunari, who became co-chief executive officer last December to assist Rich Gilligan, now assumes marketing duties until the two resigning executives are replaced at the company's California headquarters, Mitsubishi announced.
Dave Schembri, executive vice president of sales and marketing, resigned after a year on the job, and Wayne Killen, vice president of marketing, resigned after just six months at Mitsubishi. Both men were recruited from Mercedes-Benz U.S.A. by Gilligan, who previously headed the manufacturing plant in Normal.
The move sparked curiosity around the industry. Resignations like this are usually triggered by three events, said Dave Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Either another automaker recruited them with a higher salary, their positions were cut due to company downsizing or they were asked to leave, he said.
"It's always a little more suspicious when you have two like this," Cole said. "Generally these kind of things are not positive, but it's hard to speculate when you just don't know what happened there."
Schembri and Killen were not asked to resign, said Mitsubishi spokesman Dan Irvin, saying only that the company found out about the resignations last Friday.
Gilligan was unavailable for comment.
The resignations come just before Mitsubishi's redesigned 2007 Eclipse Spyder is expected to hit dealership lots in late March, along with the new Galant Ralliart, with a sportier body and the faster engine of the Eclipse.
Both vehicles are made in Normal.
"The cars have to sell the cars, so (the resignations) shouldn't have much impact on the deals they've already put in place," Cole said.
Mitsubishi officials hope the redesigned vehicles will reverse a recent sales slump stemming from a recall scandal at MMNA's parent company, Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Motor Corp.
U.S. Mitsubishi sales were down 23 percent in 2005.