Mazda has integrated its European research and development operation into Mazda Motor Europe GmbH (MME).

The centre at Oberursel, Germany, was previously a division of Mazda Motor Corporation of Japan.

The company said this move was "a significant step" in its plans to start European production of the Demio replacement at Ford's Valencia plant in early 2003 and "develop product concepts, special versions, technical services and additional customer service opportunities specifically for Europe".

Akira Marumoto, director of European R&D and production, becomes executive vice president of MME, with his own areas of responsibility, from 1 July.

"The R&D centre previously reported directly to Japan but now, as part of Mazda Motor Europe, it will play an even greater role in influencing the engineering and design of new models to suit the European market," said MME president Jan Brentebråten.

Mazda Motor Europe is restructuring its distribution activities, taking direct responsibility for an increasing number of markets across Europe.

MME already controls distribution in Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy and France and is currently negotiating to take over distribution from the current privately-owned importer in the UK while reviewing other markets.

MME wants to be directly responsible for 70 percent of its European sales volume by the end of 2001 and to further increase this percentage during 2002.

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