DETROIT (AP) _ Mazda Motor of America Inc. sacked its top-ranking American executive Tuesday as part of a continuing cost-cutting program that will eliminate 175 jobs, most at the company's Irvine, Calif., headquarters.

Clark Vitulli, 47, had been demoted from senior vice president and chief operating officer of the Japanese automaker's U.S. subsidiary on Feb. 15 when Mazda cut about 200 jobs. On Tuesday, Mazda eliminated his current job, executive vice president of operations.

''It's kind of a shock,'' Vitulli said in a telephone interview. ''I had an inkling that more changes were coming and there was some risk, but when you're in there across the desk, that's a shock.''

James Hossack, vice president of product planning, David Watson, vice president of logistics and Dave Parmenter, marketing director also were dumped. Their duties were consolidated into other executive posts.

Vitulli, who joined Mazda four years ago after working at Chrysler Corp., had been rumored to be on the way out before February's cuts. His duties were talken over by Mazda Motor of America President Sonny Sonoguchi.

''This was not something anyone wanted to do,'' said Jay Amestoy, who survived the ax and added product planning to his duties as vice president of marketing and communications. ''This was the man who led Mazda to three straight years of sales records.

''The company has gotten smaller and his position was just no longer needed,'' Amestoy said.

Mazda has been wracked by the yen's rise against the dollar, which has raised the cost of importing its cars to the United States. The launching of five new vehicles in the last two years left Mazda strapped for cash and prompted it to sell half of its assembly plant in Flat Rock, Mich., to Ford Motor Co.

Ford, which owns 25 percent of Mazda Motor Corp., says it does not plan to increase its stake despite requests from Mazda.

Late last year, Mazda abruptly canceled plans to lauch a luxury line, Amati, saying it was too late in entering the U.S. market for luxury cars. Japanese automakers Honda, Toyota and Nissan have established luxury divisions in the United States.

Mazda Motor of America now has about 900 employees, down from 1,300 at the end of last year.