Mazda is on track to record profits this year and is building to capacity producing 1.15 million units across all major global makets, writes Chris Wright.

Nigel Brackenbury, General Manager, Global Marketing, based in Hiroshima, said the Ford-owned Japanese automakers planned to build on this success with better control over distribution and more new products.

"We have lots of good new products to show with the Crossport Concept at the Detroit Auto Show and the new MX-5 which will debut at the Geneva Show," he said. "We have sold 700,000 MX-5s worldwide and that will be some act to follow.

"We are very hopeful that the Crossport can be put into production and while it is a vehicle that is primarily designed for the North American market there is no reason why it could not do well in Europe and even Japan.

"The Nissan Murano has been launched in Japan and has proved there is a market for large vehicles of this type there."

Brackenbury said Mazda was now working very well within the Ford empire. He added: "The relationship works well both ways. Mazda gets access to platforms and technologies which would not otherwise be available to us while in terms of product development Ford is now benchmarking us.

"There is no pressure to use more Ford platforms, we see the savings more on using common systems."

In Europe Mazda has shown a significant improvement with a 20 percent year on year increase in sales in 2004.

It sold 275,000 vehicles in Europe last year and that is 72 percent up over 2001. Market share now stands at 1.6 percent and Dan Morris, president and CEO, Mazda Europe, said he would like to see stabilize at 2 percent on an ongoing basis.

"This would give us annual sales of between 350,000 and 400,000 sales year," he said. "This is critical mass for our 2,200 European dealers. They have been very loyal to us and we are now able to replay them."

Last year saw big increases across Europe with Italy up 68 percent to 24,000 sales, UK up 27 percent, Spain 45 percent to 13,700, France up 29 percent to 13,100 while in Russia sales hit 10,000 in 2004, up from just 1,800 the previous year.

Sales in Germany rose by just by 5 percent, but that in a declining market.

The rise in Italy has been skewed by the popularity of the Mazda2, a need that the automaker has been able to meet thanks to its utilization of Ford's production facility in Valencia, Spain.

Morris said Mazda's success had been led by good product and the fact that it now has control of 85 percent of its European distribution. Since 2000 it has been taking control in major markets from independent distributors.

He added: "We can speak with one voice with a Pan European approach to advertising and to the brand. We never had that two years ago."

Mazda does not have control in all European markets yet, it will take over Ireland next year but in places such as Finland, Belgium, the Netherlands. Greece, Czech Republic and Poland there are no plans to take over from the current independent distributors.

Morris added: "We will only look at doing this if and when the time is right in each market. Currently we are happy with the distribution arrangements in those areas."