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Mazda's strength a bonus for troubled Ford Motor Co

Valuable position: CEO Hisakazu Imaki says Ford needs Mazda.

Imaki claims that Mazda is an ‘indispensable component’ of Ford

Mazda logo20 Sep 2006

MAZDA is confident the troubled Ford Motor Co will not sell its 33 per cent stake in the Japanese car-maker despite its intention to rid itself of some of its Premier Automotive Group brands.

Visiting Melbourne last week to open a new Mazda dealership in suburban Ringwood, Mazda Motor Corp chief executive Hisakazu Imaki said Mazda’s current output of engineering and engines used in Ford vehicles made the company too valuable for the Detroit car-maker.

Ford’s stake in Mazda is now worth about $US3 billion.

Mr Imaki said he was not worried that Ford could possibly consider selling its stake.

"First let me tell you that there has been no such plan put to us at all," he said. "Of course, since the CEO changed at Ford, I cannot tell what the future brings. I have not met the new CEO (Alan Mulally) yet.

"But when you look at the way Ford and Mazda work together right now you’ll note that some body platforms and also some smaller engines – all the important parts – are being done by Mazda."Mr Imaki also said that Mazda played an important role in production engineering for Ford, a point recognised by the Detroit maker.

"I can say that even within the Japanese car-makers, people respect Mazda’s manufacturing capabilities," he said. "So when you consider all that I believe that for Ford, Mazda will be a very important, indispensable component.

"I hope this didn’t sound presumptuous but I’m just trying to be straightforward and tell you the conditions between our two companies."Mr Imaki accepted that Mazda was carrying a greater load for Ford.

"Generally that’s true," he said. "Ford recently introduced product in the D and C segment. The platform for those vehicles was engineered by Mazda.

"And for the 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine, they’re all Mazda-engineered engines … as well as the smaller automatics, they’re all Mazda.

"Some of the automatics themselves are supplied direct from Mazda."

22 center imageLeft: Ford’s Focus is built off the Mazda3 platform.

Ford announced last month that it would sell its premium Aston Martin brand in a move to trim costs and reverse its declining fortunes in the US and Europe.

The company is conducting a “strategic review” of other brands, including Land Rover and Jaguar.

Ford has been hit particularly hard in the US, where its F-Series trucks and Explorer once dominated. Surging fuel prices have seen buyers move to smaller, more economical cars.

The situation between Mazda and Ford is particularly poignant for the Japanese car-maker because it was the Ford Motor Co which came to Mazda’s rescue in 1996, when it boosted its 25 per cent stake in the small company to 33.4 per cent and Ford’s Henry Wallace became the first American president of a Japanese company.

Mr Imaki, who is a 40-year veteran of Mazda, supported the alliance, aware that some of his industry colleagues cautioned any ties with the big American.

"So in response to that I told my men at that time something that today is a common understanding within the company: in other words, make everything open to them but always be sure that we are one step ahead," he said.

"And when you reveal everything, you put pressure on yourself and I feel that putting pressure on yourself is essential and if you can’t bear the pressure, all you need to do is take a step forward.

"That’s my basic philosophy which I’ve been working with in my 40-year career with Mazda, which is why the business is so interesting."Mazda’s biggest issue at the moment is meeting global demand for its range of cars, the Mazda3 being the most popular.

"When we introduced the Mazda3 I was wary that we’d be able to sell 240,000 units globally," Mr Imaki said. "Now we’re running at a pace of 350,000 to 360,000 units a year and we can’t meet demand."Mr Imaki said part of Mazda’s credo was to remain nimble and agile, and he ruled out using its renown rotary engine in other Mazda vehicles. This engine would remain the signature engine of Mazda’s sportscars.

"By no means do we have any aspirations of becoming another Toyota, making all products to all people," he said.

The company’s "Mazda Momentum" product plan, which officially ends in March, will make way for a further 10-year product plan.

"Some two years ago we formed a team in the company to think what Mazda should be like in 10 years," he said.

"That is a corporate- wide effort and, based on that plan, we’ll be developing off that a mid- and short-term plan. But right now we’re not at the stage where we are able to make any announcement with that regard.

"When the time comes the announcement will not just involve products but other initiatives that involve the corporation in a bigger role."Mazda is currently building a joint-venture plant in China with Ford to service the rapidly growing middle-class there, with a capacity of 160,000 units annually.

Mr Imaki confirmed the company was also looking at building another plant at another yet-to-be-named location.

However, he said Chinese-sourced Mazdas for Australia were not part of any Mazda Japan plans "for the time being".

"Of course you can never tell about the future," he said.

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