CHIBA, Japan -- A top executive at Mazda Motor Corp. said on Wednesday the automaker's U.S. sales in the first 10 days of October rose from the same period a year earlier despite a decline in the overall market.
"Clearly the Big 3 are in some degree of difficulty," Executive Vice President John Parker told a small group of reporters on the sidelines of the Tokyo auto show, referring to General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler group.
"We haven't seen any fall-over to Mazda. Mazda sales are strong. We're doing better than last year," he said.
After a few months of exceptionally robust sales supported by heavy employee-style discounts at U.S. brands, overall demand has headed south since the end of September. Industry watchers expect another soft month in October.
Earlier, Nissan Motor Co. CEO Carlos Ghosn told reporters that U.S. sales at Japan's second-biggest carmaker were also down in the first few weeks of October, though at a slower pace than the overall industry.
At Mazda, Parker said the popular Mazda3 compact was still in short supply despite being in its second year, while other cars like the Mazda6 sedan were enjoying healthy sales.
But he added that sales of SUVs and other light trucks, where much of the discount war has been waged by the local brands, were suffering.
"The SUV and truck side is a tough market so we're down on that side of the business," he said.
Mazda, owned one-third by Ford, is counting on the just-launched MX-5 sports coupe to increase showroom traffic as it prepares to bring another new product, the new CX-7 crossover, to market next year.
Improving its North American operations was "one of the key elements" to improving Mazda's profitability, Parker said, as it aimed to raise its operating profit margin to 6 percent over the long term.
For the business year ending March 2006, Mazda is projecting operating profits of 90 billion yen ($777 million), equivalent to an operating margin of 3.2 percent.
"We're basically on track to meet those targets," he said, adding that Mazda had already seen improvements in its North American profits during the first business half-year. Those results will be announced on Nov. 2.
For next year, Parker said Mazda would have the right combination of a more competent dealer group as more dealerships go exclusive, and strong products to generate bigger profits in the United States.
Mazda's profits are likely to get an extra boost this year from a weak yen rate against the euro and dollar, especially as exports make up a significant portion of its vehicles.
Parker acknowledged, however, that currency tailwinds were temporary, and Mazda faced an urgent task of reducing its exposure to exchange rate swings.
"We're very conscious that we're operating in a very favorable exchange environment."
Parker said Mazda was studying its options for allocating limited resources into local production plants overseas over a 10-year vision.