TOKYO - Mazda Motor Corp. began production of the new Mazda3 at its Hofu, Japan, plant last week. The first car off the line was a European-specification five-door hatchback.
The Mazda3 will debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September and go on sale in Europe shortly after. It replaces the 323/Familia in Japan and the Protege in other markets.
Sales of the Protege in the U.S. market through May are off 10 percent from a year earlier, to 27,946. The replacement Mazda3 is scheduled to arrive in U.S. showrooms next year as a 2005 model.
While the 323/Protege is a subcompact, the Mazda3 has been upgraded to a mid-sized vehicle. The engine displacement has not been disclosed but is expected to be around 2.0 liters. Both sedan and hatchback models will be made, with pricing and sales goals to be determined.
The 3 will become Mazda's most-produced car worldwide, outstripping the Demio.
The car is the fourth all-new model developed under Mazda's so-called "DNA-focused product creation system" and follows the Mazda6, 2/Demio and RX-8.
In Japan, the car will be known as the Axela, derived by combining "accelerate" and "excellent."