Mazda says CEO to step down, vice president to take over

Mazda Motor President Masamichi Kogai speaks at a news conference in Tokyo, Japan. (REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

Mazda Motor has named the head of its Americas operations as its next president and CEO after its current chief steps down in June, as Japan's fifth-largest automaker seeks to expand in North America, its biggest market.

The company said on Friday that Masamichi Kogai will step down and be replaced by current vice president Akira Marumoto, 60, who now oversees operations in the Americas. The changes are effective June 26 after Mazda's annual shareholders' meeting.

Kogai, who became Mazda's president and CEO in 2013, will be following the footsteps of his two immediate predecessors who also held the top job for five years each. He will still be with the automaker and become its chairman, the company said.

Mazda has had a six-year run of rising vehicle sales. With global annual sales of around 1.6 million vehicles, it is seeking to expand, particularly in North America, its biggest market which accounts for nearly 30 percent of total sales.

Earlier this year, it announced that it would invest in a new, $1.6 billion plant in the U.S. state of Alabama as a joint venture with Toyota Motor.

But as one of Japan's smaller automakers, it faces growing costs to stay competitive in an industry which is being disrupted by new technologies, including self-driving cars and electric vehicles.

Mazda and Toyota are jointly developing affordable electric vehicles, pooling resources to better compete in the race for new car technologies. As part of this partnership announced last year, Toyota has taken a 5 percent stake in its smaller rival.

Last month, Mazda forecast a 28 percent drop in full-year operating profit, hurt by a stronger yen as well as higher spending.

(Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu; Editing by Edwina Gibbs and Muralikumar Anantharaman)