Saturday, May 14, 2005
Autoweek has a great interview with the head of American operations for Mazda here. As many examples as there are of smaller companies being run poorly by their overlords (GM and Saab, Ford and Jaguar), there are also great examples like this one. This quote from president Jim O'Sullivan is so telling that the heads of Mazda have a great understanding of immediate future trends in the marketplace:
We see people coming out of traditional SUVs or needing something more than a sedan with ride height and a safe, secure feeling. They want front drive or all-wheel drive and fuel efficiency. The American public not is going to walk away from SUVs, but they will morph into crossovers because they want something more carlike. They are tired of their fourth or fifth Grand Cherokee.
Not everything is perfect in dealing with headquarters though. O'Sullivan makes a subtle complaint about the lack of updates for his Ranger pickup clone, the B-Series:
What do you tell your rural dealers who squawk about the age of the B series?
It's not going away. You can only do so much with our resources, even with Ford's backing. We are giving our dealers higher-volume vehicles across North America, and product development is prioritizing those first. They like what's coming, and they are pacified with that. But full-sized trucks are coming down on top of compacts pricewise, and it's pretty tough when you have the strength of the Ford dealer organization and the voice they have with Ranger.
And finally a word from O'Sullivan about fuel efficiency:
Where will gasoline prices go? Does a lineup with a sporty flair connect with buyers who may be looking for something more economical?
Fuel prices influence household incomes in terms of discretionary spending. There's a definite negative impact. But from our venue, being sporty is not about having a 450-horsepower type of product; it's about driving dynamics and ergonomics. For someone who needs performance, we offer a pretty good alternative with a 2.3-liter turbo with 274 horsepower in the Mazdaspeed6. It was designed with European fuel conditions in mind. The Mazda3 is sporty, but fuel consumption is not high. If people are thinking of downsizing and want fuel-efficient packages, we offer some emotion there. We offer a lot more choices, too. We have four versions of the Mazda6 and two iterations of the Mazda3.
Here is a car company that has such a clear vision of itself and the marketplace. They know that fuel crises are ahead, and they know how the public views them. Mazda has become the middle class sports car company. This may not even really be reflected from an engineering standpoint, but with sporty designs and advertising that emphasizes sport (read: Zoom-Zoom), that is the image they are trying portray. The Miata is an inexpensive sports car, the 6 and 3 all seem very sporty with decent fuel economy. As gas prices soar, the stigma attached to something effeminate like a Miata will disappear as people clammer for sportiness without the requisite fuel expenditures. Right now many men would rather die than own a Miata, but if gas were to hit four bucks a gallon, goodbye BMW Z4, hello MX-5. Mazda is a company to watch in the future.