Mazda has recently suffered three shocks: the global recession in car sales, profit setbacks and the sudden retreat of Ford as its controlling shareholder.
The situation is severe enough to raise questions over Mazda’s prospects, which is why the firm’s new president and CEO, Takashi Yamanouchi, visited Europe recently to explain his company’s thinking to Autocar's Steve Cropley.
Mazda has lost roughly £1 billion over the past year. How are you coping with that?
We did have a tough time. Everyone did. The market was down between 20 and 30 per cent. But we took action quickly. We were among the first to cut production to avoid building up big stocks, and since then we have worked hard at cutting the stocks we did have, and improving our business. It has started to work.
Has Mazda lost ground in the market?
We don’t believe so. We’ve maintained our global market share and maintained some especially strong markets such as China, Australia and Israel. And we’ve launched the new Mazda 3, which has helped a lot in our biggest markets. All in all, we believe we’re holding our own.
When do you think you will be profitable again?
We should make a substantial operating profit in the second half of this year, though our result for the full year will be a loss. Next year we should be back on track. What do you expect operating conditions to be like in the short term? Not so easy. We think volumes will stay flat for the time being, and the Japanese yen will continue to be strong. But we have cash in hand, and the situation is under control.
Have you been hurt by the reduction in Ford’s Mazda stake from 33 to 13 per cent?
It was certainly a big change. But you need to bear in mind that Ford remains our biggest shareholder, and even today I’m assisted in my job by a finance director who is a former Ford vice-president. Our companies share platforms and manufacturing facilities in the US, Thailand and China, and we have no plans to change that. In future, if there are win-win opportunities then we will pursue them together.
Does this new situation give you more independence?
That is true in a legal sense. We do have fewer constraints. But we are still good friends with Ford, and there are no philosophical difficulties between our two firms.
What are Mazda’s longer-term objectives?
We are still studying what Mazda should be like in future, but broadly speaking we want to keep building our brand image, and doing things that are consistent with our brand DNA. There won’t be any large cars in our future, or any microcars. We won’t be chasing sales volume just for the sake of it. Quality, high residual values and customer satisfaction are all more important.
What is the future of ‘zoom-zoom’?
We talk about ‘sustainable zoom-zoom’ now. In 2011 we will launch a new generation of engines with a petrol model as efficient as today’s diesels, and a diesel as efficient as today’s petrol hybrids. By 2015, we want to improve our cars’ overall fuel consumption by 30 per cent. We also want to design our cars so people instantly want to drive them. Meanwhile, we will continue researching hydrogen power, especially as fuel for internal combustion engines. We will also keep going with hybrids and battery technology, so that if the market demands them we will be ready.
What about Mazda’s rotary engine?
We will build a new, more efficient rotary. We have already begun using one as power for a fleet of Mazda 5-based experimental hybrids in Japan, running on hydrogen. The Mazda rotary engine definitely has a future.