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Fueled by increased sales and the improved financial condition of its North American operations, Mazda Motor Corp.’s consolidated pretax profits jumped 64.4 percent in the 1997 business year to 15.49 billion yen, the carmaker said Tuesday.

Mazda’s group sales rose 7.8 percent to 2.04 trillion yen, and the company posted operating profits of 32.99 billion yen, the Hiroshima-based automaker said. Its consolidated net losses shrank to 6.8 billion yen from net losses of 17.55 billion yen reported in the previous business year.

Mazda expects to post consolidated net profits of 30 billion yen in the next business year, the first such profits in six years. It also plans to provide the first dividends in six years during the 1998 business year.

The group’s North American and European operations still reported operating losses, but Gary Hexter, Mazda’s senior managing director, said operations in those regions will start seeing profits in the current business year with the introduction of the Demio in Europe and a new version of its core Familia model worldwide.

Mazda as a parent company reported pretax profits of 25.96 billion yen, marking a sharp increase of 86.7 percent due to strong sales of the Demio and the new Capella, despite overall weak demand in the domestic auto market.

The company also attributed profit gains to cost-cutting efforts and the depreciation of the yen against the dollar.

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