HIROSHIMA – It may be too soon to talk about legacies, but Mazda President Takashi Yamanouchi is building a record that could place him among the most influential executives ever to lead the storied auto maker.

Now 68 and looking fit, Yamanouchi took over as president in November 2008, two months after the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy triggered the worst global recession since the 1930s.

Several weeks later, the yen began its historic climb against the dollar and euro and stayed at hyper levels for the next four years, virtually wiping out earnings from exports, which Mazda depended on for 80% of sales. The auto maker was hit hard.

Just as Mazda was beginning to adjust to the high yen by putting greater emphasis on Asia and emerging markets, Japan was struck by a deadly earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, which shut down domestic vehicle production for the better part of three months, only to be followed half a year later by flooding in Thailand, disrupting operations there as well.

Coinciding with Yamanouchi being named CEO, Mazda’s largest shareholder, Ford, sold off 20% of its controlling equity stake on Nov. 18, 2008, effectively leaving the Japanese brand on its own. Ford since has lowered its holding to 3.5%.

Given this recent history, it is almost unimaginable that Mazda, known for nifty sports cars and rotary engines, finds itself on track to report a ¥45 billion ($456 million) profit for the fiscal year ended March 31 and, if analysts are correct, set to double earnings for 2013 and possibly triple them in fiscal 2014.

Even with the dollar and euro mired at $1:¥80 and €1:¥100 levels, Mazda had projected a ¥25 billion ($253 million) profit prior to the recent upward revaluation of the two major currencies. Through the middle of last week, the dollar and euro had risen 20%. 

Prospects for even further gains now are likely in light of the Bank of Japan’s April 4 announcement that it planned to ease the nation’s monetary policy in hopes of stimulating the economy. At Monday’s market closing, the exchange rate stood at $1:¥98.7 and €1:¥128.3.

Yamanouchi remains guarded about Mazda’s prospects. In an interview at the auto maker’s headquarters here, the straight-talking executive says, “We expect some positive impact in the fourth quarter,” then cautions that the period “tends to be our biggest sales quarter while also benefiting from the full effect of cost-cutting throughout the year.

“Of course, if the current (foreign exchange) situation holds steady, we expect a brighter financial outlook.” Not taking anything for granted, he adds, “We also can expect greater competition.”

Whether or not that’s the case, industry analysts have turned decidedly bullish on Mazda and not just because of the forex markets, but also because the auto maker apparently has made good on promises to cut costs in platform development through vertical, or top-down, integration of its model lineup.