Oil Report

AUTOSHOW-INTERVIEW-Mazda sees 2009 U.S. market share gains

DETROIT, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Japan's Mazda Motor Corp 7261.T expects to gain U.S. market share again this year supported by solid credit availability through its partnership with JPMorgan Chase Bank and the launch of its remodelled, high-volume Mazda3 compact, a top executive said on Sunday.

Mazda’s U.S. sales fell 11 percent to about 264,000 vehicles in 2008, but it picked up 0.2 percentage point in market share to grab 2.0 percent of the world’s biggest auto market despite reducing sales to fleet customers.

“Last time we were at that level was in 1994,” Jim O’Sullivan, chief executive officer of Mazda North America, told Reuters in an interview at the Detroit auto show.

“We’re still optimistic that we can make some share gains,” he said, while adding that absolute sales volumes could fall depending on how low total demand goes.

O’Sullivan said Mazda’s dealers were optimistic and continue to invest in the franchise on the belief that once-indulgent consumers will migrate to Mazda vehicles as they seek value and practicality in a brand that wasn’t just plain.

Mazda also offered more liquidity than many of its rivals after it switched its finance company from Ford Motor Credit Co to JP Morgan Chase’s Chase Auto Finance in October, he said.

Ford Motor Co F.N owns 13 percent of Mazda.

But the switch to JP Morgan Chase allows Mazda to stay in the leasing business, which weaker banks and some automakers’ captive finance companies have stopped offering due to the risk of falling residual values of vehicles.

“For this kind of market, we’re still in relatively decent shape,” said O’Sullivan, who became a permanent employee at Mazda last month after serving on secondment from Ford for the last 5-1/2 years.

“We think we’re going to come out of this economic downturnstronger than ever.”

O’Sullivan said JPMorgan Chase’s seeking business with Mazda was an endorsement of its strong positioning, backed by a customer base of relatively well-educated, higher-income buyers who were the second-youngest group in the United States.

Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim, editing by Peter Bohan