Greater Los Angeles Auto ShowLOS ANGELES – The world debut here of the ’07 Mazda CX-7 cross/utility vehicle and next week’s unveiling of the Kabura compact sports coupe represent a coming of age for Mazda Motor Corp.’s North American operations.

Both vehicles were conceived in North America with the market in mind. The CX-7 is expected in U.S. showrooms this spring. The impact of the two vehicles is expected to resonate globally, company officials say.(See related story: Mazda Kabura Concept, CX-7 on Tap for Detroit )

The CX-7, a 5-seat CUV, also is the first to benefit from Mazda’s “scalable derivative” strategy, says Robert Davis, senior vice president-product development and quality, which involves melding platform elements to create unique architectures.

On display at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show here, the CX-7 features the powertrain from the Mazdaspeed 6 sports sedan and the all-wheel-drive system from the Japanese and European versions of the Mazda5 micro minivan.

Jim O’Sullivan, Mazda North America Operations president and CEO, says the brand will launch three other made-for-America products this year.

The auto maker is withholding details of these future vehicles, but Ward’s learns at least one will be based on a platform that was derived in a similar manner to the CX-7’s underpinnings.

’07 Mazda CX-7

More significant is that the CX-7 platform will remain unique to Mazda and not be shared by parent Ford Motor Co.

Ford is not coming after it, and we’re not bringing it to Ford,” O’Sullivan says.

Ford, which owns a 33% stake in Mazda, makes liberal use of the Mazda6 platform in its lineup. A stretched version of the CD3 platform supports the new Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln Zephyr sedans.

This year will also see Ford’s first CUV application, the Edge, to be derived from the CD3 platform.

The Mazda3 compact car’s C1 platform supports the Ford Focus sold in Europe, as well as two products from another Ford-owned brand, the Volvo S40 compact sedan and V50 sport wagon.

The CX-7, which will go on sale in the U.S. and Canada in the spring before becoming available in Mexico and other global markets, suggests Mazda has reached a significant level of confidence.

During its development, Mazda initially benchmarked the Toyota Highlander CUV, but company insiders realized the Highlander was not sporty enough to serve as a competitive target.

“We’re finally comfortable in our own skin,” Davis says.

The design of the CX-7 production model is remarkably close to the sleek MX-Crossport that debuted at last year’s Detroit show. Particularly striking is the 60-degree rake of the windshield.

“It looks like an SUV from the front, but its silhouette is more like a sports car,” says Moray Callum, Mazda’s global design director.

Mazda expects to sell about 40,000 CX-7s annually, O’Sullivan reveals.

The CUV will be available in three trim levels, with the base model featuring front-wheel drive only. Pricing, to be announced closer to launch, will be pegged between the Honda CR-V and Nissan Murano CUVs, O’Sullivan says.

The ’06 CR-V bases at $20,945, while the ’06 Murano starts at $27,430, according to Ward’s segmentation data.

The debut of the Mazda Kabura at next week’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit will mark the debut of designer Franz von Holzhausen.

Von Holzhausen, who designed the Pontiac Solstice roadster, was named MNAO’s design director last February. The Kabura is the first project to emerge from Mazda’s California design center since he took charge.

In another sign of growth for MNAO, von Holzhausen tells Ward’s he intends to add as many as seven designers to his 18-member staff within a year.

emayne@primediabusiness.com