SCOTTSDALE, AZ – The plan for Mazda to build 50,000 Mazda2-derived small cars annually for Toyota at its new plant in Mexico is being welcomed by Toyota’s U.S. sales unit.

While the pact was engineered by officials in Japan, the American arm is “pretty excited about the product we’re going to get,” says Bill Fay, U.S. Toyota Div. group vice president and general manager.

Members of Toyota’s U.S. dealer council were shown photos of the car two weeks ago and responded positively “about the overall look of the product,” Fay tells WardsAuto here during a media preview for the ’13 RAV4.

Toyota isn’t releasing much detail on the new model, which is set to begin production in summer 2015 and may or may not be called Yaris. But Fay believes the car will have the identical powertrain as the next-generation Mazda2 that also will be built at the 140,000-unit Mazda assembly plant to open in Guanajuato in 2014.

The current Mazda2 sold in the U.S. is powered by a 100-hp, 1.5L DOHC 4-cyl., mated to either a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission. Specifications for the ’13 Yaris are similar, although its 1.5L makes 6 hp more.

For Fay, benefits of the Mazda pact include “the chance to fill in the Yaris model lineup,” and the opportunity for Toyota to boost local assembly in Mexico.

Toyota has operated a truck plant in Baja California for 10 years, building the Tacoma compact pickup for the local market, but its presence in Mexico pales in comparison to some of its prime Japanese competitors.

Nissan for decades has been one of the largest vehicle producers in Mexico, currently building the Versa and Sentra models for the U.S. at plants in Cuernavaca and Aguascalientes. It is adding a second site in Aguascalientes for subcompacts, and reports suggest the auto maker is contemplating assembling an Infiniti compact sedan in the country.

Honda’s El Salto plant is used as a source for in-demand CR-V cross/utility vehicles for North America, and the auto maker plans to open a new facility in Guanajuato in 2014 for production of the next-generation Fit subcompact.

This year, Toyota switched North American Yaris sourcing from Japan to France to take advantage of lower exchange rates.

The subcompact sector is one of the rare U.S. car segments Toyota isn’t leading or close-to-leading.

Yaris sales were flat through November, up 1.4%, WardsAuto data shows. Delivery of 28,591 units so far this year places it well behind Nissan’s segment-leading Versa, at 102,709. It also trails the Kia Rio by nearly 10,000 units.

Fay says the Yaris has not been a marketing priority in the U.S., and Toyota remains comfortable with that.

“I think we’ve made a conscious decision at this point to put more of our attention and resources to making the Corolla a success, as opposed to Yaris,” Fay says of the compact sedan that is one of the best-selling cars in the U.S.

Toyota’s investment in the Corolla in North America, which includes manufacturing sites in Cambridge, ON, Canada, and a new dedicated plant in Blue Springs, MS, makes promoting the compact “a better equation for us now,” he says.

However, with the upcoming, Mazda-sourced B-car, “down the road, that could change.”

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com