Toyota and Mazda have signed a deal to enter a technology-sharing partnership. Besides bringing together two of Japan’s most renowned companies, the agreement also unites the world’s largest automaker with one of the world’s smallest independent automakers. So what does this mean for Toyotaku and Mazdafarians?
Mazda’s gains are very clear: they want Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell and plug-in hybrid technology. Mazda has been working on FCVs for years, including a hydrogen powered rotary RX-8, but Toyota is currently the only company with a (relatively) mass production hydrogen car on the market, the Mirai (Japanese for “future”). ToMoCo’s also been dominating the hybrid game for almost two decades, and Mazda has yet to offer one of its own design.
What Toyota seeks to gain is not so clear to those not deep into the rabbit hole of auto nerd-dom. What Toyota wants is a peek at how Mazda — whose entire yearly budgets are no more than rounding errors in its own Scrooge McDuck-like vault of cash — can consistently build cars that are lauded by enthusiasts in every metric from performance to styling.
We’ve consistently heard automakers that are many times the size of Mazda whine about how sports cars aren’t profitable (*cough* Nissan IDx *cough*), and that they have to share platforms (370Z) or branding (GT86/FR-S/BRZ) to make them financially viable. And yet, here’s little ol’ Mazda, whose total US sales numbers are less than that of the Camry, showing the world how it’s done with a dedicated platform in the MX-5 Miata.
Now, any time a whale gets within the vicinity of a guppy people get nervous, and Mazda’s been down this road before. During Ford’s 1990s buying spree, it increased its stake in the Hiroshima-based company from to 33.4 percent from the original 7 percent it acquired in 1979. By Japanese law, any stake larger than one-third is enough to control the boardroom, and in subsequent years Mazda engineers were forced to compromise their performance ideals due to platform sharing.
The result was cars like the second-gen Mazda6, which lacked the sharp handling Mazda engineers wanted but had to settle oor in order to share costs with everything from the Mercury Milan to the Ford Edge crossover.
The two split in 2008, allowing Mazda to start from a fresh slate, now known as the SkyActiv development process. This ushered in what is considered across the industry as Mazda’s greatest renaissance since its nearly all-rotary engine lineup back in the early 1970s.
So how is the tie-up with Toyota going to differ from the one with Ford? Well, for one Toyota is in a very different place than Ford was in 1996. Toyota has more money than some small countries’ GDP, so cutting costs by platform sharing is not high on the priority list.
Mostly, however, we feel positive about this deal because it is well known that ToMoCo CEO Akio Toyoda is a die hard enthusiast (That’s him on the left posing with a TE27 owner). In fact, he’s been trying to steer his grandfather’s gigantic ship back towards its own sports car roots since he took the helm in 2009. His goals, however, have been met with variable levels of success.
At the press conference in Japan today Toyoda remarked, “Mazda has proven that it always thinks of what is coming next for vehicles and technology, while still managing to stay true to its basic carmaking roots.”
Toyota already knows how to build sedans, crossovers, compacts — everything that Mazda makes. And if sales are any indication of success, Toyota excels at all of them. What Toyoda doesn’t have is Mazda’s prowess of process, how to stay true to a vision when there’s a hundred chefs in the kitchen.
Read between the lines: “In this way, Mazda very much practices what Toyota holds dear: making ever-better cars,” Toyoda said. “I am delighted that our two companies can share the same vision and work together to make cars better.”
It seems that what Toyoda — the CEO, not the company — wants is to see what makes Mazda tick, not force a bunch of its own platforms down its throat. Yes, there was the hideous Scion iA unveiled in New York, based on the Mazda2 sedan. However, that’s Mazda improving Toyota’s flagging Scion brand, selling off some excess production capacity in its Mexico plant and milking a few thousand more sales out of Toyota’s expansive dealer network, not ToMoCo diluting Mazda.
It’s not the first time Toyota has gleaned the expertise of a leaner company to create a fun-to-drive car while leaving the rest alone. Toyota acquired 16 percent of Subaru in 2005 and Imprezas have yet to become rebadged Corollas. Instead, what we got was the GT86/FR-S/BRZ to fill a long-empty lightweight RWD sports coupe-shaped hole in the automotive universe.
Besides, the automotive world is a big and scary place. A small company like Mazda was not going to wander the landscape alone for long without a top-level predator snapping it up. If you’ve been following the drama, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has been making hostile rumblings about merging with another company, and Mazda is already scheduled to rebadge the ND MX-5 as the Fiat 124 Spyder.
That would be truly disastrous for Mazda, as Fiat-Chrysler would likely see it as little more than a collection of highly reliable parts to be stripped for long-suffering projects. Toyota, in addition to being highly profitable already, is at least Japanese, so a Ghosn-like razing of Mazda’s traditional business practices is unlikely.
Toyoda-san said that the union is an engagement, not a marriage, but the thinking is clearly long-term: “I can think of nothing more wonderful than showing the world ― together ― that the next 100 years of cars will be just as fun as the first.” We’ll know more about the partnership as news unfolds in the coming weeks.
I’ve always admired Mazda for keeping the Miata a viable product under less than ideal circumstances.
Btw: The only reason hydrogen is still on the table is because of government subsidies, grants, etc. Hydrogen production requires too much energy input for its energy output to be viable unless subsidized (by YOU). A true alternative power system is in the form of a hybrid micro-turbine electric drive system – basically an EV with a very small supplemental turbine to charge the batteries on long journeys. Any liquid that burns will fuel the turbine. Turbines have few parts relative to even basic gasoline engines. Your car does not need NASA-like complexity, nor should it have the potential to blow up your neighbourhood if in an accident.
Man, I’ve been saying the same thing about the turbine->electric for years… Any liquid that’s flammable, and will flow through a tube is fuel. Gas, diesel, paraffin, vegetable oil, Napoleon Brandy (dunno why they said “Napoleon,” but whatever).
That would be a step toward TRUE energy independence, to the point of: “Who cares about the mileage?”
I read somewhere that Chrysler had to give up it’s turbine program with the ’79 gov’t loan-guarantee deal, as in, they gave it to the gov’t, so anything new would have to be done by a foreign company.
My understanding is that Brazil is flex-fuel to the point that about 50% of them are running alcohol – mostly from sugar cane, and they’re totally independent in that area.
From what I read, isn’t hydrogen about impossible to keep in the car for an extended period? I can keep gas in a car for EVER, but won’t hydrogen leach out, even in the best containers?
Oooh – use geothermal to power the hydrogen “production!” (…and a lot of other electric-based power…)
Well, I gotta say that I loved the ’88-’92 626/MX-6/Probe, so I won’t complain about the Ford alliance, but as for Toyota, maybe they’re going to try to revamp their image from “staid” to sporting. (You’d think the Escort would have been a better car from that deal…)
Now, a 2-door, Corolla-size car with the RWD of the MX-5, and maybe named, oh, I don’t know, maybe Celica?
I do NOT see a joining with Fiat being good for Mazda. I read that Fiat’s possibly shopping Chrysler out, so my trust level isn’t real high for them right now…
And I may get some heat for this, but I think I prefer the front end of the iA to the 2 sedan. Kind of a shark-look to it. Would’ve been nice if they’d made it more Sciony in overall style, though.
Frikken A. Ben makes it sound like the Ford era of Mazda were dark days where the company couldn’t do what it wanted and everything was rebadged junk.
In reality, it was the best period for Mazda, ever. The FC RX7 was created while Ford was “meddling”. So was the original Miata. Then there was the MX6/Probe, Eunos Cosmo, MX3, and of course the pinnacle of Mazda-ness, the FD RX7. Oh, and how about the 787B? ALL OF IT HAPPENED UNDER FORD’S NEFARIOUS BOARDROOM SCHEMING.
Mazda would be another Isuzu or Hino if not for Ford (a failed auto company relegated to making trucks or those car-things that drive around the terminals at airports), so save the misguided vilification. If a Mazda partnership could deliver a third or what the Ford-Mazda partnership did, it would be good indeed.
The complaints Iisted came from the mouths of Mazda engineers. And they were talking about the era after 1996 when Ford increased their stake to 33.4.
Just so we don’t get into an argument – to me, there’s a difference between Ford and Fiat…
Ford was on the rebuild in the ’80s; remember the Yamaha-powered Taurus SHO? I don’t even think the NEW SHO really holds to the original principal – “Executive Hotrod.” Ford didn’t seem to be trying to make Mazda into a “Japanese Ford;” it seemed to be only “beneficial collaborations.”
Fiat, I just dunno… Something just feels “off” about them. I like them as FIAT, but really, not so much in their influence on Chrysler. Maybe they’re moving the cars into the Fiat “niche;” something…
Mazda builds good mainstream cars, and I’d really like them to bring trucks here again, but I just can’t see them being a “Japanese Fiat.” I don’t think I’d want a “Mazda 500.”
The Mazda 2/Yaris/Scion iA isn’t a bad idea to me. They can keep their character. The possible collaboration between Toyota and BMW for the maybe-Supra is also a bit troubling to me. I’ll go with: I prefer Japanese cars to be Japanese in character; American cars to be American in character, and European cars to be European in character.
Not a fan of the “bigger fish” theory in business; waters down character, and reduces choices to the consumer.
The SHO came from the pre-1996 era. Once Ford’s shares increased to 33.4%, things changed.
I wholly agree that Fiat would be the wrong choice. Marchionne seems like he just wants to strip acquired automakers for their spare parts for the glory of Fiat.
I hope this all ends with a new rotary….doubt it but it’s ok to dream.
This is nothing new for me.
I’ve been synergizing these makers’ offerings for years, starting with a combined “leftover hardware” bucket and ultimately culminating with my Miata receiving its Toyota powerplant. The focus is a little different though; I’m building a fun machine with a jacked-up power:weight ratio and near single-digit fuel economy rather than aiming for an efficient and environmentally-sound compact commuter.
So a Lexus V-8 with a big honkin’ blower stickin’ outta the hood?
I APPROVE!! The perfect partner for Mazda and Toyota both! Keep it all Japanese and bring a bit of investment for Mazda, and enthusiastic chassis development to Toyota. Let it be the next gen 8 6 or a means to bring the rotary back. A real corolla again or reinvent the Celica!
Do some LFA carbon chassis development for an rx-9 super car or mesh the rotary with a big electric motor for a bad ass new truck! How can this go wrong?