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TOKYO, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Japan's Mazda Motor Corp plans to launch an upmarket sport utility vehicle for the North American market in 2006, hoping to improve its profit margins there, the Nihon Keizai newspaper reported on Tuesday.

If true, it will be the first Mazda model designed specifically for the North American market. Mazda's strength lies in small cars and it has struggled in North America, where larger cars are more popular.

A spokesman said the company had no comment, but stopped short of denying the report.

The paper said the SUV would be based on the Mazda6/Atenza sedan, use a 3,000cc to 3,500cc engine made by Ford Motor Co , which holds one-third of Mazda, and be priced between $30,000 and $40,000.

Mazda would aim for annual sales of 50,000 units.

Mazda's most expensive and profitable model in the United States is currently the RX-8 sports car, a souped-up version of which sells for over $27,000. Its Tribute SUV goes for up to $25,000.

Mazda and Ford have been looking for ways to deepen cooperation, and plans are under way to build a new Mercury brand car also using the Mazda6 platform.

Mazda's shares moved little on the report, ending the morning session up 0.67 percent at 300 yen, in line with rises in most auto stocks.

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