Mazda Motor Corp. President Mark Fields said Thursday that the company plans to launch 36 new models over the next couple of years, following expectations that it has returned to profitability in the just-ended fiscal year.

“We will soon begin rolling out a wave of new products,” Fields said, “16 in Japan alone over the next couple of years, 11 in North America and 9 in Europe.”

Japan’s fifth-largest automaker said last week the favorable impact of a weaker yen and cost-cutting efforts have led it to boost its earnings estimates for the year that ended March 31.

Mazda now expects a group net profit of 8.5 billion yen, compared with a 155.24 billion yen loss a year earlier, leading Fields to call it “the largest turnaround in profitability ever in our 82 years of being on this planet.”

The president, who himself has been living on the planet for 41 of those years, suggested the prospect of further gains this fiscal year, pointing to the new products and an expected further decline in the yen.

The turnaround is going to be achieved during “an extremely harsh business environment,” he said.

Asked about exchange rates, Fields said he expects the U.S. dollar to trade in the 130 yen -135 yen range during the current fiscal year. It has recently been moving in a tight range just above 130 yen.

Mazda, dependent more on exports than other Japanese carmakers, estimates the yen to have fallen to an average 125 to the dollar in 2001 from 110.5 yen the preceding year.

Regarding market strategy, Fields said the company, owned 33.3 percent by U.S. carmaker Ford Motor Co., is focusing on Japan, North America, Europe and Australia, and has no plan to expand throughout Asia.

“As we look at the markets, we clearly prioritize Japan, North America and Europe, and Australia as our key markets, and other markets would be opportunities, I suppose,” he said.

In Asia, Mazda will focus on specific markets where it has already set up operations, such as Thailand, Taiwan and China, he said, adding that in China it doubled sales to 10,000 units last year and plans to double them again this year.

Fields also said the Hiroshima Prefecture-based company places an emphasis on the distinctive value of what he calls “Mazda design and product DNA” to meet demand from like-minded customers.

“For Mazda, as a midsize automaker, a truly distinctive spirit is especially important for us, because we cannot be all things to all people,” he said. “Our challenge as a company is to add distinctive brand-engineering value elements to the vehicles that are shared among members of the Ford group.”

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