Mazda Motor Corporation on Wednesday began production of its next ‘new generation’ vehicle to be called the Axela in Japan and Mazda3 in all other global markets. The 323/Familia replacement is the fourth all-new car developed under the company’s so-called “DNA-focused product creation system” and follows the 6 (Atenza in Japan), 2 (Demio) and RX-8. The 3 will be officially launched at the Frankfurt motor show in early September 2003.

Mazda, in rather more words, said the 3 has been designed for a European look and feel, following the recent success of the 6 and 2 designed on similar lines.

The 6, for example, has received much favourable comment in British, American and Australasian press for its excellent ride and handling.

To mark the start of 3 production, Mazda staged a ceremony at its Hofu Plant in the Yamaguchi prefecture of Japan. The official Job One vehicle, significantly a blue European-specification five-door hatchback, was greeted off the line by union representatives, Mazda employees and key company directors, including engineering and manufacturing chief Hisakazu Imaki.

The production 3 is similar to the MX Sportif concept displayed at the Geneva International Motor Show in March 2003.

Full details will be officially announced during the Frankfurt show and the 3 will go on sale in Europe next autumn and will be introduced into other key markets during the fourth quarter of calendar 2003 and first quarter 2004.

In the critical Japanese home market, where the car will also debut this autumn, the name Axela was developed by combining the English words “accelerate” and “excellent”, Mazda said. The new name displaces the popular Familia tag used in Japan for decades.