SALAMANCA, Mexico (Kyodo) -- Mazda Motor Corp. held a ceremony in the central Mexico city of Salamanca on Thursday to fully open its first Mexican plant as a base for exports to the United States, Latin America, and Europe.

"This will be the most important production base under the ongoing structural reform in which the fate of the company is at stake," Mazda Chairman Takashi Yamanouchi said at the ceremony.

The $770 million plant is Mazda's first outside Japan in 27 years and is designed to enhance overseas production to insulate the automaker against exchange rate fluctuations.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto attended the event and noted that Mazda has substantially expanded its market share in Mexico over a short period.

The president, whose country has taken advantage of free trade agreements with more than 40 countries to become the world's fourth largest vehicle exporter, said he would like to see Mazda compete successfully globally.

Mazda began to produce the Mazda3 compact car, called Axela in Japan, at the plant in January.

It will also assemble the Mazda2, named the Demio in Japan, and the Skyactive fuel-efficient engine.

From 2015, the Mexican plant will manufacture a Mazda2-based vehicle for Toyota Motor Corp. Its annual production capacity will increase from 140,000 units at present to 230,000 units by March 2016.

Among other Japanese automakers, Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. have also opened Mexican plants recently.