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Tanaka has worked at Mazda for more than 30 years (Photo: Mazda)

Matsuhiro Tanaka has taken over from Kenichiro Saruwatari as head of Mazda's European R&D center in Oberursel, outside Frankfurt.

The 55-year-old engineer has worked at the Japanese carmaker since 1984, most recently in vehicle development and testing.

Saruwatari, 51, is returning to Mazda headquarters in Japan to become deputy general manager of the company's product division.

Mazda operates R&D centers in Japan, China, Germany and the US. The German facility specializes in technology, design development and standards for the European market.

In Mazda's fiscal first quarter, which ended June 30, the company sold 1 percent more cars globally for a total of 375,000 vehicles. The small rise reflected higher sales in Europe and China, which offset drops in other major markets.

For the full fiscal year, which ends March 31, 2017, Mazda expects to sell 1,550,000 new vehicles, up from 1,534,000 units in fiscal 2016.