Mazda Motor Corp. says Ikuo Maeda will replace Laurens van den Acker as general manager-Design Div., effective today.

Van den Acker is leaving the auto maker “to pursue other interests,” but staying on until April 10 “to ensure a smooth transition to Maeda.”

Maeda joined Mazda in 1982 and held positions in the U.S. and Japan. In the late 1980s, he spent three years at Mazda North American Operations’ design studio.

In 1999 and 2000, Maeda spent time at former majority-owner Ford Motor Co.’s Detroit studio.

Maeda is the chief designer of the RX-8 sports car and current-generation Mazda2 subcompact. He most recently held the title of chief designer-Design Strategic Studio, at Mazda’s Hiroshima headquarters.

Van den Acker was appointed to head Mazda’s global design team in May 2006, taking over for Moray Callum, who departed for a position at Ford in the U.S.

Under van den Acker’s watch, Mazda debuted a series of concept cars that used nature as a guide post, including the Nagare concept of the 2006 Los Angeles auto show; the Ryuga of the 2007 North American International Auto Show in Detroit; and the Taiki of the 2007 Tokyo motor show.

Van den Acker also spent time at Ford, where he was a member of the team that designed the Bronco concept unveiled at the 2004 Detroit show.