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Mazda Motor Corp. saw group net profit jump 35 percent from a year earlier to a record 45.8 billion yen, while operating profit rose 18 percent to an all-time high of 82.9 billion yen in fiscal 2004, company officials said Thursday.

It was the fourth straight year of rising profits, the Hiroshima-based automaker said.

The automaker attributed the strong performance to robust sales in Europe and the success of its three-year cost-reduction program, which slashed purchasing costs by 25 percent.

“Although Mazda is growing steadily, we should not be satisfied yet,” Mazda chief executive Hisakazu Imaki said in a statement. “We need to be even more resolute in staying the course.”

The appreciation of the yen during the year to March 31 sucked 2 billion yen from Mazda’s operating profit. But the automaker cut 44.3 billion yen in costs, which more than offset the negative impact of exchange rate, the firm said.

In the reporting year, sales totaled 2.7 trillion yen, up 5 percent from the previous year. In terms of volume, Mazda shipped 1.1 million vehicles worldwide, up 2.6 percent.

Domestic sales grew 2 percent to 286,000 vehicles, thanks to strong demand for new models, such as the Verisa luxury compact and the Premacy minivan.

In the United States, sales slipped 3 percent to 264,000 units due to sluggish commercial vehicle sales.

In Europe, the automaker sold 273,000 vehicles, up 9 percent, thanks to brisk sales of the Mazda 6, known as the Atenza in Japan, and the Mazda 3, known as the Axela.

For the current fiscal year, Mazda forecasts a net profit of 55 billion yen, up 20 percent, an operating profit of 90 billion yen, up 9 percent, and sales of 2.84 trillion yen, up 7 percent.

Toyota plant party

NEW YORK (Kyodo) Toyota Motor Corp. on Wednesday held a groundbreaking ceremony for the expansion of its engine plant in Alabama to produce V-8 engines for the Tundra full-size pickup and the Sequoia SUV.

Toyota said the expansion of the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama plant in Huntsville will create 300 new jobs and an additional $250 million in investment.

“Once complete, the plant will have 800 team members and the investment will total $490 million,” Toyota said in a statement. Production is scheduled to begin in late 2006.

“This expansion will allow us to build more of the powerful trucks our customers demand,” said Atsushi Niimi, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America. “These Alabama-made engines will be the heart of those trucks.”

TMMAL has supplied V-8 engines for the Tundra full-size pickup produced in Indiana since May 2003. Toyota said additional V-8 engines will be produced for the Tundra and the Sequoia SUV produced in Indiana.

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