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Mazda MX-5 delayed by GFC and CX-5

Pause button: Mazda’s iconic MX-5 was never in danger of being deleted, but the success of the CX-5 was crucial to the company’s future.

A rethink of priorities in the post-Ford era put new Roadster on backburner

Mazda logo10 Aug 2015

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

MAZDA has revealed that it delayed the introduction of the fourth generation MX-5 – well after development had begun – to channel resources towards the company’s economic saviour in the post-Ford ownership period, the CX-5.

As a result, according to ND MX-5 project manager, Nobuhiro Yamamoto, the MX-5’s unintentional hiatus has resulted in a far more focused and purer ND.

Speaking through an interpreter at the ND MX-5 launch in Queensland last week, the 40-year Mazda veteran revealed that the company had originally intended to develop a ‘top-hat’ reskin for the 2012 version of the ND MX-5 when work commenced in 2007, until the Global Financial Crisis changed everything.

“The economic situation became very difficult after we started work on the new MX-5,” he said. “The GFC meant there was a full product review, and that meant that a new MX-5 was not a priority and so it was pushed back indefinitely. It was a management decision. The larger-scale volume CX-5 took priority.

Otherwise (the ND MX-5) would have been out in 2012.”

Mr Yamamoto said the ‘stillborn’ ND would have featured different styling and proportions because it was based on the old car’s longer wheelbase but narrower tracks.

It was during this time that Mazda decided to dovetail the 2015 ND with the emerging SkyActiv suite of platforms, drivetrains, and electrical hardware, making the resulting MX-5 a lighter and more efficient car as a result.

“It would have looked different as a 2012 ND, and it would not have received the SkyActiv technology or Kodo design developments,” he said. “For example, the MX-5 would not have had as much aluminium and other SkyActiv-related technologies. So the postponement of the ND helped us in several important ways, so now the MX-5 is a much better car as a result.”

The program manager added that the effect of the GFC, in terms of falling sales and mounting financial hardship, also helped harden Mazda’s resolve to make all of its SkyActiv vehicles leaders in their respective classes.

“The losses at Mazda meant resources were very scarce as many programs had to be stopped or delayed,” Mr Yamamoto said. “But through the darkness period we still tried to make the ND as good as it could be… the darkness helped us focus on the MX-5’s core basic principles.”

Mr Yamamoto is keen to point out that even though the original ND program was put on hold, Mazda had never considered canning its iconic convertible.

“No. It would never had died,” he emphasised. “Clearly all of us at Mazda had a vision… and more good things will come out of Mazda soon, I promise.”

Mr Yamamoto explained how the delay resulted in the NC Series III model of 2012, with a redesigned front end and more pedestrian-impact friendly bonnet to meet new European crash-test regulations.

“The NC III would not have happened… it basically gained a new bonnet for pedestrian rules,” he said. “We had to extend the life of the NC, which meant meeting new regulations with an active bonnet in Europe and in Japan. It is similar in concept to the ND, but not the same.”

The decision to delay the MX-5 and concentrate instead on CX-5 is certainly paying off, with the medium SUV helping the once-beleaguered Mazda Motor Corporation return to profit in 2013, following a string of crippling losses that resulted after Ford reduced its share in the company to three per cent in late 2010.

In April this year, the CX-5 became the second-fastest selling Mazda in history after the 3/Axela, hitting the one-million-unit milestone in less than 3.5 years of production.

Furthermore, total retail volume for the first three months of the Japanese fiscal year to July 30 was up 15.8 per cent to 370,000 units worldwide on the back of the CX-5, as well as related SkyActiv models such as the Mazda3 and CX-3 compact SUV.

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