Ford has asked Toyota components-making unit Denso to buy some of its Mazda Motor shareholding, a Japanese newspaper said.

In a statement on its website, Denso said: "Denso has not announced any information regarding this article. [We do] not have any information to disclose at this moment."

Ford and Mazda had earlier both declined to comment on the report, in business daily Nikkei, that the supplier was likely to consider Ford's request because Denso wants to do more business with Mazda, Reuters said.

The paper's unsourced report said the number of shares that Denso would buy - and the price - hadn't yet been negotiated, adding that the parts maker was likely to acquire less than 1% of Ford's 33.4% stake in Mazda.

A "person familiar with the matter" had said over last weekend Ford may sell some of its US$1.36bn stake as it struggles with weakening sales and a global credit crunch, Reuters noted.

Some Japanese reports had suggested Ford wanted to divest as much as 20% of its shareholding.

The Nikkei reported that Ford had approached between 20 and 30 prospective buyers for its shares in Mazda, Reuters added.

Trading house Sumitomo Corporation [which has worked closely with Mazda for many years] and Itochu had expressed interest in a deal, the newspaper said.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg News, citing two people "with knowledge of the discussions", on Thursday said Mazda may buy back part of the Ford-owned stake as the US automaker considers unwinding its holdings.

The sources said Mazda may be joined by other Japanese companies to spread the risk, while Ford would keep part of its holding. A transaction may occur next month, the Bloomberg sources added.

Mazda formed an automatic transmission venture with Ford in 1969 and started supplying rebadged light trucks to its partner in 1971. Ford acquired a 25% stake in Mazda in 1979 and expanded this to the current level in 1996, giving it effective control.

Yet, according to the Bloomberg report, Ford may now reduce its investment in its Japanese partner (with which it now shares mostly platforms and engines, plus US and Thai assembly plants), ceding effective control to boost cash as CEO Alan Mulally works to end losses. The holding was on Wednesday valued at US$1.33bn, according to Bloomberg.

Both Ford and Mazda declined to comment on that report as well.

Ford has posted US$23.9bn in losses since 2005 and shares have plunged 66% this year while Mazda shares have slumped 50%, Bloomberg said.

The news agency said a group purchase of the Mazda shares would follow similar acquisitions through 'keiretsus', or networks of Japanese corporations, that own stakes in one another.

About 10 companies in the Mitsubishi keiretsu participated in two financial bailouts totaling $7.6bn for Mitsubishi Motors in 2004 and 2005 after Daimler AG decided to unload its controlling stake, Bloomberg News noted.

Ford eyes Mazda stake sale