(Adds details on Mazda, Toyota partnership; changes story tag for some media subscribers)
DETROIT, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Japan's Mazda Motor Corp on Wednesday said that while it is deepening its development and production partnership with Toyota Motor Corp , the small automaker would remain a company independent from its much bigger rival.
Mazda and Toyota last week said they will build a $1.6 billion joint assembly plant in Alabama, and the two companies are working together to develop electric cars, automated driving systems and connected vehicles.
"Despite this technology partnership, Mazda intends to remain an independent company," Masahiro Moro, president and CEO of Mazda's North American operations, said at an auto industry conference in Detroit.
"We are driven to make cars and SUVs our way, focussing on making driving better."
The two companies last year established a new venture company to develop electric vehicle technology, pooling resources to compete with global rivals in an increasingly frenetic race to produce more battery-powered cars.
Mazda has been strengthening its partnership with Toyota as Japan's fifth-largest automaker has said it would be difficult to develop expensive technology for electric vehicles and self-driving cars on its limited budget, which is roughly one-tenth that of Toyota's.
Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu and Nick Carey; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama