Few announcements in recent years have puzzled me quite as much as the one made by Mazda in May 2012.
The next MX-5, due in 2015, would be co-developed with Fiat, spawning a Japanese-built Alfa Romeo sister version with its own styling and engines. Was the market’s pre-eminent power in affordable rear-driven fun really giving away the family jewels? Was one of the most distinctive driver’s cars in the world really to be cloned?
Interviews with several Mazda high-ups at the Frankfurt motor show yesterday presented the chance to ask some obvious questions. First to supply the answers was Mazda chairman Takashi Yamanouchi – surely a man without whose support the deal couldn’t have happened.
I asked if the agreement had anything to do with the fairly dire straights the Japanese manufacturer had been in at the end of the last decade, and whether Yamanouchi would take the same decision again, now that things are looking brighter?
His answer, delivered with an entirely straight face, surprised me. “I would,” he said. “We are a small, independent car-maker; it’s important for us to foster wider links with others and to cultivate relationships like this. I am happy with the deal with Fiat. I’m sure Mr Marchionne is also very happy.” That last line came with a smirk that suggested the man well knew the value of what Mazda was – is – giving away here.