Mazda Motor Corp. began production of its new CX-9 cross/utility vehicle at its Ujina No.1 plant in Japan on Oct. 30.

The large 7-seat CUV joins the midsize CX-7 unibody utility vehicle in Mazda’s North American lineup.

The CX-9 is expected to go on sale in late January or early February, a Mazda spokesman recently told Ward’s.

“(The) CX-9 is a key model aimed at raising the visibility of Mazda in North America and will be an integral part of building the brand,” Hisakazu Imaki, president and CEO of Mazda Motor Corp., says in a statement.

A ceremony celebrating Job One of the first CX-9 for North America was held at the plant, near Mazda’s Hiroshima headquarters. About 450 staff members were in attendance, Mazda says.