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MAKUHARI, Chiba Pref. — Ford Motor Co., which has suffered losses the past two years, said Wednesday it will take advantage of its Japanese partner, Mazda Motor Corp., to bolster its global presence.

“We integrated Mazda far more closely into Ford and Ford into Mazda,” Nick Scheele, chief operating officer of Ford, said in an interview during the press preview day of the Tokyo Motor Show. “We are seeing the benefits of that.”

Mazda has successfully improved its performance since Ford acquired a 33.4 percent stake in 1996 to help the Japanese carmaker escape financial problems.

The U.S. auto giant exercises management control of Mazda and had sent four presidents to run the firm until Hisakazu Imaki from Mazda took over the top post in August.

In the partnership’s early years, Mazda produced few new models because the company had to restructure, reducing distribution channels and cutting thousands of jobs.

Since early 2002, however, Mazda introduced products in line with Ford so the two firms “could more effectively leverage total resource capabilities as a group,” Scheele said.

In the past 18 months, Mazda, based in Fuchu, Hiroshima Prefecture, put four new models — the Demio compact, the Atenza sedan, the RX-8 sports car and the Axela midsize sedan — on the domestic and overseas markets.

“We have in the last 18 months changed two-thirds of Mazda’s products by volume” by introducing those models, which helped turn Mazda’s business around in Japan and build a more active brand image, Scheele said.

To maintain its momentum, Mazda will debut five more models over the next two years, he said.

Cooperation between Ford and Mazda is also expanding in other parts of Asia. For instance, the two firms will invest $500 million on building up their Thai joint venture, Auto Alliance Thailand, to produce pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles.

While Mazda’s performance has improved in Japan and Europe, the Japanese company is struggling in the United States due to a failed sales strategy.

Mazda sales in Japan this year are growing steadily in line with its annual sales goal of 290,000 units, up 4 percent over 2002. The company’s European sales leaped more than 30 percent in the January-September period. But in the U.S., Mazda saw its sales drop by 5 percent to 6 percent in recent months, according to the firm.

“We clearly have got a job to do in North America on Mazda,” Scheele said. “They (Mazda’s management team) have all the support that they ask for (from) Ford. They have plans to get the same level of success in the U.S.”

Mazda is meanwhile becoming an increasingly important partner for Ford, which suffered net losses in 2001 and 2002, partly due to decreased sales due to the Firestone tire recall scandal.

Ford announced in January 2002 it was closing five plants and cutting 35,000 jobs.

As Toyota Motor Corp. steadily increases its global market share, some experts speculate that Ford, the world’s second-largest carmaker in terms of sales volume, might fall behind Toyota, now No. 3 in the world.

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