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Tokyo show: Mazda BT-50’s next partner unclear

Tough sell: Mazda’s BT-50 will live to fight another day in the competitive pick-up segment, but where it will be developed is still a mystery.

Mazda evaluates potential partnerships for next-generation BT-50 workhorse

Mazda logo29 Oct 2015

By TIM NICHOLSON in TOKYO

MAZDA has confirmed that its joint-venture utility program with Ford might not extend to the next-generation BT-50.

Speaking with Australian journalists at the Tokyo motor show yesterday, Mazda Motor Corporation senior managing executive officer in charge of Asia and Oceania Yuji Nakamine said the company was committed to the long-term viability of the BT-50, despite question marks over its development partner for the next generation.

Mazda and Ford have had a long-standing collaboration with pick-ups, culminating in the current Australian-developed BT-50 and Ranger launched in 2011.

Given the relatively low sales volume of the BT-50 outside markets such as Thailand and Australia, Mazda is unlikely to develop its own one-tonne utility without sharing development costs.

“We are not giving up pick-up truck, clearly,” Mr Nakamine said.

“We have a very big market in Australia, also Thailand. Internally at Mazda we have been discussing the future pick-up truck strategy. So maybe we have to do it, clearly.

“And also Mazda Australia is very successful in pick-up business. Maybe in the past we used to sell lots of workforce pick-up trucks, like single cab, but now we shifted the focus to 4x4 and more leisure-oriented customers and businesses.

“So I think Mazda will continue to work on (it).” In terms of partners, Nakamine-san was vague about whether its recently announced agreement to partner with Toyota on a number of unnamed projects covered a co-development of the HiLux and BT-50.

“At this moment we have been discussing with Toyota about what area we should collaborate,” he said.

“We are still in the process of identifying those areas. So maybe next year I think we will make an announcement regarding scope for collaboration with Toyota.” When asked whether Mazda would once again team up with Ford on a pick-up project, Mr Nakamine said: “We are not sure. We have been discussing. I cannot make any comment on this one.” Nakamine-san also ruled out entering the pick-up-based four-wheel-drive wagon segment that is expanding in Australia with entries from Ford with its Ranger-based Everest, as well as offerings from Mitsubishi, Holden, Isuzu Ute and Toyota.

“It’s a bit tough,” he said. “I think we are not going to do that kind of derivative of a model based on a pick-up truck platform. Rather than doing that we want to focus on CX-3, CX-5 and CX-9.” He added that the brand values of Mazda would not fit with a rugged, go-anywhere off-roader.

“It is maybe something to do with Mazda passenger car strategy and brand strategy. We want to create a beautiful car, sexy car, fun-to-drive car, and very sophisticated driving, quiet NVH (noise, vibration and harshness),” he said.

Asked whether the BT-50 needs a tougher design, MMC executive officer and design chief Ikuo Maeda said the BT-50 “is tough” – but added that he prefers a butcher look for the pick-up.

“Being a truck, it is my preference it should not be feminine or urban, it should be in the direction of being a more bold design to express that it is a masculine tool,” he said through an interpreter.

Maeda-san suggested that Mazda’s Kodo styling philosophy could still be used to pen a future BT-50 model, adding that the design language was “not so restrictive”.

In terms of the secretive agreement with Toyota, MMC president and CEO Masamichi Kogai told Australian journalists that the partnership would cover a broad range of projects.

“So the collaboration is in all areas of R&D,” he said. “We are not just looking for a short-term result or relationship. Toyota feels the same way. We are looking at maintaining a good relationship over the long term.” Kogai-san said this was unlikely to include technologies that Toyota had already developed such as hydrogen fuel-cell and other alternative fuels. Instead, he said the two Japanese car-makers would work together to develop new “element technologies” such as “battery control tech or engine control and also entertainment or infotainment areas”.

He said that there were “lots of things” Mazda can learn from Toyota, and spoke positively about the relationship.

“Toyota is a company that sells and introduces their models everywhere around the world,” he said.

“That means they have to have the technology or standard that can be applied to all the places, so they have a very high technology standard criteria that they set for themselves.

“That means, working in collaboration with Toyota, we need to meet that standard and that is a great capability opportunity as well.” Further discussing the Toyota partnership, Kogai-san quoted a Japanese saying that literally translates to: “A small frog in a small well does not know the world or the big ocean. Just being in your own world, you don’t know what is out there.

“We don’t want to be that so we want to learn what is happening,” he said.

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