Local firm GB Auto said on Thursday it had started an exclusive agreement to import and sell Mazda-branded vehicles in Egypt.

The company, Egypt's biggest listed automobile assembler, told Reuters the Mazda franchise would increase its share of the local passenger car market to around 30% from 27% now.

Tie-ups between automakers are being advanced as a survival strategy for the industry to cope with fragile demand and overcapacity during the global economic downturn.

"We will launch with the Mazda 3, which we will import completely built-up and bring to market in the second quarter of this year. This will be followed by the compact 2 [Demio in Japan] model," chief executive officer Raouf Ghabbour said in a statement.

GB Auto manufactures, assembles, imports and distributes Hyundai, Volvo, Mitsubishi and Bajaj vehicles.

Last October, it said it would form a subsidiary to help buyers purchase Bajaj vehicles on credit, a move that would help expand sales to lower income groups.

The firm booked a 64% drop in net income to 63.9m Egyptian pounds (US$11.76m) for the third quarter of 2009 but said it saw an upturn in the car market.

It also said in October it was eyeing raising 1bn pounds ($184.1m) through a five-year bond issue to fund regional expansion and new service centres in Egypt.

Mazda Motor, Japan's fifth largest automaker, said in October it expected an operating loss of JPY12bn($131m) for the year to March.

Its operating profit plunged 82% to JPY5.93bn for the July-September second quarter.