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Mazda on Track to Launch Mazda3 in U.S. in March

Mazda's relationship with Ford, which last fall reduced its stake in the Japanese auto maker from a controlling 33% to 13%, is sufficient for now, a top executive says.

DETROIT – Mazda North American Operations CEO and President Jim O'Sullivan says the new Mazda3's launch is “on track.”

The Mazda3 is the auto maker's best-selling model in the U.S., with more than 100,000 deliveries last year.

“(The cars) are arriving at the North American ports as we speak,” O'Sullivan tells the media following a speech at the Automotive News World Congress here. “We'll start shipping to Canada and Mexico the first of February, and in the U.S. we'll start shipping in March.”

O'Sullivan says both sedan and hatchback variants of the '10 Mazda3 will be available at its U.S. dealerships in March.

Meanwhile, the brand is expected to meet its internal sales goal this month, he says, while declining to divulge numbers.

“Obviously, we're going to be down with the industry,” O'Sullivan says, noting Mazda's January sales rare started out strong, but then dropped off.

“We're going to be down a little bit year-on-year, but we'll see what happens this last week. The last week of the month makes a big difference.”

O'Sullivan, as with other speakers here, also gives a pep talk of sorts to attendees, reminding them there are vehicles to be sold after the global economic downturn runs its course.

Mazda has experienced other ups and downs in the U.S., he says, including the oil crisis of the 1970s that cut into sales of its rotary-engine-powered models.

“Mazda has been there before, a couple of times,” O'Sullivan says of the downturn now affecting sales. Whether it's a 13 million-unit industry or 17 million, “if you've got good product out, there you'll be fine.”

Calling 2009 “the year of survival for many in the industry,” the Mazda chief speaks of possible consolidation. At the same time, he assures Mazda's relationship with Ford Motor Co., which last fall reduced its stake in the Japanese auto maker from a controlling 33% to 13%, is sufficient.

“Right now, Mazda doesn't need another partner,” O'Sullivan says. “We are already a global brand focused on global. It's not like we have a different positioning in Asia; a different positioning in Europe.”

If Mazda wants, he says it still can tap into Ford's advanced technologies.

However, Robert Davis, senior vice president-research, development and quality for Mazda North American Operations, recently told Ward's the amount of money the auto maker would require to adapt Ford's hybrid-electric-vehicle technology to its Mazda6 sedan is prohibitive at the moment.

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