HIROSHIMA, Japan - Mazda will launch its new 626 this month in Europe instead of Japan.
The independent UK importer Mazda Cars Ltd. won the introduction because it caused a European sales increase of 49 percent last year.
Other Mazda importers in Europe have been told to analyze and apply Mazda Cars' methods. Mazda Cars is a subsidiary of Inchcape.
Mazda Motor Corp. President Henry Wallace refused to say when the 626 would launch in other countries, but he said Mazda's 'assault on Europe' had yet to take place.
The sales assault in the UK will include price. The 626 replacement will undercut its rivals in the UK such as the Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Vectra and Peugeot 406.
The 626 will sell in the UK for £13,960-£18,760 ($22,330-$30,000) including taxes - $1,600 less than its similarly equipped rivals.
The outgoing 626 has sold 50,000 units a year across Europe. Mazda aims to sell 80,000-85,000 units of the new model in Europe. Mazda plans for total European car sales of 235,000 this year, a 17 percent improvement on last year's 200,000 units.
Ronald Leicht, Mazda Motor Corp. senior managing director, said a 'media blitz' to support Mazda sales in Europe was imminent.
Wallace said the UK would see steady growth rather than dramatic changes because Japanese transplants have already made the UK a more international market.
Other European countries still had companies that are considered 'national champions,' he said.
The position of the national car companies in their home European markets is certain to deteriorate, he warned.
'We are seeing it with GM, VW, Fiat, Renault, Peugeot. All national champions will find it increasingly difficult.
'Ford was the closest thing in the UK to a national champion and we have watched its market position steadily eroding,' said Wallace. 'The European industry is not competitive in terms of speed of development and getting the product into the marketplace.'
He said European manufacturers need to change themselves.
'They are still regional players. Renault, Fiat and Peugeot are not in North America or Asia, yet their own region is about to meet a bigger challenge. Anyone who wants to be in the business in the 21st century needs to be in Asia.'
Wallace said South Korean carmakers are less of a threat to Mazda than 'established Europeans, (who) are likely to stay that way for a long time. They are my greatest concern.'
He said the Koreans are aggressive and cost-conscious.
'They will change the industry,' he said. 'They are taking the lower end of the market, which used to be the Japanese stronghold, underpricing everyone because of the strong yen. But there are two question marks over them: have they the technical capability; have they the quality?'