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Mazda to push Isuzu BT-50 harder

No deal: Mazda has cited the rising cost per unit of sourcing its BT-50 from Ford as the reason it has switched to Isuzu and its D-Max.

Local engineering input, dealer initiatives to rise with next Mazda BT-50

Mazda logo23 Jan 2017

MAZDA Australia managing director Martin Benders has revealed that a local push convinced the company into a joint venture with Isuzu for its next BT-50, with plans to heighten engineering and dealership investment now in place to help ensure the underperforming ute improves its sales performance.

“Mazda has taken this global position that we have enough to do with passenger cars and SUVs to not worry about a ute, but from our perspective the ute market is slightly different here and it justifies having that vehicle in our range,” Mr Benders told GoAuto at the national media launch of the MX-5 Retractable Fastback in central New South Wales last week.

“The announcement last year that we’re going to develop another BT-50 in partnership with Isuzu is largely in response to how important it is in our market and keeping our dealers and customers in that segment.

“We are a big player, and if it’s a big part of our business they (Mazda headquarters) will respond to that. We want to keep BT-50 in our range and it will only stay in our range if we keep being successful with it, so we need to do some more work with that.”

Mr Benders admitted that some mistakes were made with the current BT-50 that was largely engineered and built by Ford in Australia and Thailand respectively.

Although the new-generation BT-50 is not due until 2019, he stressed that such missteps would not occur with the joint venture with Isuzu.

“I’d have to say because Ford became the lead engineers of this ute they had a lot more invested in it,” Mr Benders said.

“As they started to shrink without Falcon they needed something to hang their hat on so they’ve put a lot of effort into the Ranger, a lot more than we’ve needed to because we have a robust range of SUVs and passenger cars.

“If I go back to the last changeover between the old model to the current-model BT-50, Ford did a lot of work earlier than we did, we sort of just carried through and I think that was to our detriment, we just assumed the buyers would come but I think we should have done some more hard work.

“For this one (with Isuzu) we will do a lot of hard work to cement it down.”

Asked whether there was anything more Mazda Australia could do to improve the sales performance of the current BT-50, Mr Benders replied: “Not in this cycle and this cycle still has a few years to run.

“But we’ll do what we have to do to hold onto what we’ve got and prepare ourselves for the Isuzu ute when it gets here,” he added.

Mazda will not only have greater engineering collaboration and input with Isuzu with the next D-Max and BT-50 pairing, but Mr Benders further stressed that more needed to be done from a retail perspective with its next ute.

“We’re already working with our dealers, we’re going to have some key dealers in every city and country areas that are heavily focused on BT-50 with dedicated people who can talk with BT-50 buyers,” he revealed.

“It’s to improve our retailing of that sort of vehicle. The ute segment in total will become the biggest segment if not this year, then next year (and) we definitely have to be there.”

In 2016, the Mazda BT-50 achieved a record year of sales with 5015 4x2 (up 4.0 per cent) and 9489 4x4 (up 9.3 per cent) models sold. However, this paled alongside the Ford Ranger (6054 4x2 and 30,880 4x4) and even the Isuzu D-Max (5038 4x2 and 11,321 4x4), the latter despite fewer dealerships.

Given that Mazda does not bank on corporate fleet and mining contracts that are Ford and Toyota fodder, Mr Benders said the aim with the next BT-50 would be to narrow the gap to Ranger and HiLux.

“We’re not happy that we’re so far apart (from Ranger),” he said.

“If you break up the BT-50 or the ute market, if you look at private buyers, we actually outsell Ford, but most of the market is not in private buyers – it’s in small, medium and large fleet. Ford always had a large fleet contact and infrastructure.

“Ranger is within a whisker of HiLux, which is fine. We still think there is plenty of scope with the other competitors for us to do better without trying to take those two guys on and still build a nicer business.”

Some rivals last year eclipsed the BT-50 for 4x4 sales, but not 4x2 volume, including Holden Colorado (2033 4x2, 16,353 4x4), Mitsubishi Triton (3928 4x2, 17,969 4x4) and Nissan Navara (2892 4x2, 13,863 4x4).

“We are growing, we’re just not growing to the extreme,” Mr Benders said.

“We’ve been pretty successful with this BT-50 compared with what we had previously, albeit not as successful as Ford has been. We want to be that successful again with the new ute because it is important to our business model to give us a country network which a lot of non-commercial (brands) don’t have.”

Asked whether Mazda Australia would consider competing with Ford and Toyota with larger fleet and mining contracts, Mr Benders said: “All of that sort of stuff, we’re not going to go into that.”

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