The executive vice president of Mazda Motor Corporation, John Parker, believes the company can sustain growth of between 10% and 15% in Europe.

“I see nothing that should stop us growing – that growth might come down to 10% to 15% rather than the 25% to 30% we have experienced in Europe recently, but we only have 1.6% of the market so there’s a lot of room to grow,” said the Ford stalwart who took up his present post in August last year, moving from president of Ford’s Asean operations.

In Europe, Parker, who spent four years as president of Ford of India, said that its was important to build on the momentum of 2003. “I’m telling everyone to keep the pedal to the metal.”

Mazda ended 2003 as the best-performing Japanese brand in Europe. Sales for the year were up 30.4% at 206,568 (on the back of acclaimed new models such as the 6, 2, RX-8 and 3) against 158,445 for 2002 for a 1.5% market share. In 2002, market share was 1.1%.

In January this year, sales were up 24.8% at 21,073 units for a 1.8% market share, up from 1.4% a year ago.

Parker said that Mazda’s global sales had a nice balance, split fairly evenly between Japan, North America (where the 6 hatchback and wagon have just gone into production for end-March sale), Europe and the rest of the world.

“I think our sales will be up about 10% globally this year. I haven’t really thought much beyond 2004 – this business is a bit like a tennis player and the Grand Slam who just takes it game by game, tournament by tournament. I’m just taking it year by year.”

While Mazda had always been strong technically and in its production systems, it had been weak in its sales and marketing.

“So I like what I see in Europe and the UK now. Taking control of our distribution network has been very important. The brand has always been strong in Europe, now we have the product to back up that strength and the distribution network to match it.

“In North America the brand is significantly weaker, as is the distribution network, so the product isn’t doing what it should for us but sales have been up by 28% over the last few months.

“In Japan, we have a 5% share and we would like to do better but sales are stable and we are comfortable with that.

“The rest of the world is a mixed bag. We are very strong in Australia with a great brand and products and in China we now have more than 100 dealers, 80,000 sales last year and the 6 was China’s Car of the Year. I think we will run out of capacity for the Chinese market this year.”

Parker said that Mazda would develop common core products for global markets – “and we are well down the road on that” – and then key, niche products in different markets.

Thursday’s Wall Street Journal said that Mazda would develop a larger version of the 6 and a crossover especially for the United States, where it builds cars with Ford in the Auto Alliance joint venture plant in Michigan.

Parker, however, said at Geneva: “We are a one million unit company, so we don’t have the luxury of being able to produce unique products for individual markets, but we do need products that identify us for different markets.”

For example, the MX-Flexa, a six-seat MPV, unveiled at Geneva (and tipped as a replacement for a current ‘MPV’-badged model sold in Europe, Japan and Asia/Australia), would be ideal for Europe, but probably not for Japan where buyers still preferred full-size MPVs, he said.