Marketing Exec John Mendel to Replace President-CEO Charlie Hughes

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DETROIT ( -- The president-CEO of Mazda North American Operations is stepping down at the end of the week, according to executives with knowledge of the situation.

Charlie Hughes had come out of retirement in October 2000 to lead the North American division. He had retired from Land Rover North America in June 1999, when it was owned by Germany's BMW AG, after serving as its only president since 1986.

Mr. Hughes, who is well-respected within the auto industry, did not return calls. John Mendel, executive vice president of sales, marketing, parts and service, will step in as acting president, the spokesman said.

Revolving door
Mazda, in which Ford Motor Co. holds a controlling stake, has had a steady stream of leaders in recent years both here and at its headquarters in Japan. Mr. Hughes reports directly to Lewis Booth, who became president of Japan's Mazda Motor Corp. last July. Mr. Booth succeeded Mark Fields, who was promoted to a role within Ford after 18 months at Mazda. Mr. Fields was Mazda's third president in three years.

After trying to imitate mass-market Asian auto leaders in the 1980s and '90s, Mazda returned to its roots in the past few years as a marketer of fun-to-drive, stylish vehicles, a strategy that has helped its bottom line. However, Mazda sold 258,213 vehicles last year, a 4.2% drop from the 269,602 it sold in 2001, according to sibling Automotive News.

Independent agency Doner, Southfield, Mich., handles the automaker's advertising account.

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