Mazda finished the first half of 2003 as the fastest growing Japanese car company in Europe and the second-fastest overall, beaten only by Hyundai affiliate Kia. Mazda's total sales for the six months broke through the 100,000 barrier to finish at 106,257 (Kia's six-month total was 62,126).

For Mazda, sales so far this year are up 38.5% and its market share is holding firm at 1.4 % of the Western European market for the year according to the latest provisional figures from ACEA, the European automobile constructors' association. Last year, Mazda had a 1% market share.

In June, Mazda's sales were up 23.6% at 17,992. This has helped boost the total Japanese share of the market to 12.8% for the month, up from 11.7% in June 2002. There were also big gains for Nissan (up 18%), Honda (up 12.6%) and Toyota (up 11.1%).

So far this year, the Japanese car makers have sold 928,748 cars, an increase of 6% over the 876,100 units sold in the first six months of 2002.

Mazda's performance in Europe was mirrored in the UK where January-June sales were up 48.28% at 18,738. Sales in June were up 78.53% at 3,151 in a market that bounced back to record a year-on-year increase of 15.8% to 240,174 units, according to the latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

This puts Mazda well on track to reach its 2003 sales target of 39,600 in the UK. In Europe, Mazda's target is 210,000 this year, rising to 300,000 in the medium term.

New Mazda UK managing director Phil Waring said: "Mazda's target is 50,000 UK sales in 2005, and reaching 40,000 this year is a real possibility. We are ahead of our business plan at the moment.

Total Western European sales in June were 1,315,263, up 2.9% over June last year. This gives a total for the first six months of the year of 7.56 million, down from 7.76 million last year, a decline of 2.6%.

This year Mazda has launched the 2 (Demio), built at a Ford plant in Valencia, Spain and is now gearing up for the summer launch of the RX-8. A new C-segment car - the 323-replacing 3 - is due at the end of 2003.