By on January 21, 2009

Since Ford said sayonara to its stake in Mazda, the erstwhile allies have been been having a lot of those “relationship talks,” reports The Detroit News. And true to the cliches, it’s a case of “can’t live with you, can’t live without you.” Crack a beer if you’ve been there before. Anyway, therap, I mean, analyst Jim Hall of 2953 Analytics sat down with the two to get a feel for the situation. “They’ve had a very symbiotic relationship,” he tells DetN. “The risk for Ford is they lose Mazda’s small car expertise. They think they can make it up with Europe, but Mazda can do it cheaper. The biggest risk to Mazda is their ability to get components on a global basis is reduced because their volumes are so low.” Ford goes around insisting that their “close, collaborative relationship will not change.” Meanwhile Mazda tells the Japanese papers that the  partnership will be “fundamentally altered.” But despite its tough talk, Mazda might need Ford’s help to expand in China, where it’s looking at a 30 percent sales bump in 08. “The thing that Ford gives Mazda, historically, is capital — and that keeps the Japanese banks off its back,” empathizes Hall. “Now, the banks are a major shareholder.” Ford and Mazda still hold monthly meetings, and US executives say Mazda’s need for engines, successful JV plants, and mutual respect will keep them together. But will Mazda’s start-stop technology be shared with Ford? And for that matter will Mazda’s “own” DSG box be a dry-clutch like the forthcoming Ford Powershift? If two cannibals share a lifeboat, which one survives? So many questions. And based on how things usually go in relationships like these, the crazy kids probably don’t know yet themselves.

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23 Comments on “The Ford-Mazda Fandango...”

  • avatar

    Now that Mazda has to stand on its own hopefully it will learn to stop Wankeling and love the piston.

    Forget plug-in LiIon series hybrids or hydrogen; cars will be running on perpetual motion before Mazda fixes the problems with the rotary engine.

    Once Mazda puts the Miata’s 2 liter I4 into the RMX-8 people will rush out to buy it, probably including me. It will be an easy fit since they are very similar platforms.

    Without the gas guzzling unreliable rotary engine the (tentatively) MX-8 could easily fill the mid-20’s lightweight RWD sedan hole in the market that Karesh referred to.

  • avatar

    Only if you turbo/super charge it. The NA 2 liter has plenty of pep in the 2400lbs Miata, not so much in the 3000lbs+ RX-8(that will be even heavier with the piston engine). The new NA 2.5 liter might make a decent base engine though…

  • avatar

    The Ford-Mazda partnership has been so successful for both companies, I can’t see why either would work to change it. Ford definitely made a mistake in selling its share, but I believe Mazda would be hurt worse if it dramatically altered the current agreement.

  • avatar

    A lot of the magic of the RX-8 would be lost with a piston engine in it. The delicate handling balance would be thrown off by the heavier, taller and further forward piston engine.

    As the 4 Mazda’s currently in my garage/driveway indicate, I’m a big fan of Mazda. They seem to be the only company that can balance the spirit and fun (The immortal zoom-zoom)that gave rise to my love of cars, with decent reliability and an affordable price.
    Without a rotary, I’ll just have to keep my RX8 forever, instead of shopping the follow-on model. That’s one of the unique things that put it on my shopping list in the first place.

    Here’s hoping Mazda and Ford can make it all work out. Without Mazda, a large portion of grass roots motorsports in North America would be mortally wounded.

  • avatar

    Ford needed the money short term, but I think long term they’ll be hurt. I just hope Mazda doesn’t fall back toward bankruptcy.

    An MX-8 would be pretty sweet, I’m not going to lie. It’d have to be styled differently (more plain looking) to differentiate it from the rotary experimental car :) .. the 2.3DISI Turbo or whatever the new Mazdaspeed3 will have (probably a 2.5 Turbo + forged rods and/or pistons, and all the 2.5s have DISI anyway) would be excellent in an MX-8. Heck, the RX-8 weighs a couple hundred pounds less than the current Mazdaspeed3, so it could be freakin fast with 280 ft/lbs of torque. Actually wait, I just remembered how the Mazdaspeed3 feels to drive. It completely loses steam above 5k rpm. That’s no fun in a sports car. They need something high revving, you know like the KL motors in the old MX-6s.. yessss

    As for the RX-8, sure they have terrible fuel economy but they’re just so darn fun to take to redline again and again!

  • avatar

    The big advantage of the rotary is packaging: you get a nice, short engine that fits neatly in a fairly confined space. This is a big deal in a rear-drive, front-engine platform. You can’t as easily shoehorn a four-cylinder into the same space, especially when it’s not transverse.

    The RX-8 really has wonderful balance, especially for such a cheap car. I can forgive the lack of low-end grunt in a car that’s as nice to drive as this.

    The reliability issue is multifaceted, as I understand it, and not all of it is really Mazda’s fault:
    * The old, turbo’ed FD RX-7 was a princess. Knock is bad in a piston engine, really bad in a rotary and thoroughly lethal in a blown rotary.
    * People—even journalists who should know better—don’t understand that you really must check the oil at every fill-up. “Excessive oil consumption” for a rotary is not the same as for a piston engine.
    * The ECU wasn’t fully sorted in the early year(s) of the model.
    * Mazda technicians and many independents didn’t “get” how to treat the car.

    If you’re used to a European car’s sensitivity, this shouldn’t have been surprising. For a Japanese car of the same vintage, it’s not so hot. You can’t beat the snot out of the car in the same way you might, say, a Supra or Z.

  • avatar

    The rotary is beautiful in theory, and in 3D animations, but crap in reality. NSU, Mercedes, GM and AMC all discovered that. It was even given up on in motorcycles, where engine weight is critical. The size and weight advantages are negligible, and the fuel economy and reliability disadvantages are not.

    The lighter Miata has 50/50 weight distribution with the 2 liter aluminum MZR. The Miata’s MZR is probably within 100 pounds of the rotary. And unlike the rotary it is a reliable, fuel efficient engine.

    If the RX-8 was offered with the 2 liter MZR, the Wankel, and the 2.3 liter MZR turbo the sales of the Wankel version would be zero, or at least very low.

    Mazda should try that experiment before they continue investing in the Wankel.

    Since the Miata and RX-8 have very similar platforms I highly doubt that there will be any packaging issues. Also, almost all, if not all, of the MZR’s very slightly higher weight will be centralized behind the front axle.

    I would love to buy an RX-8; it is an amazing platform for the price, but I cannot buy one with that awful engine.

    Even in racing, where weight and packaging should trump fuel economy and reliability, Mazda has given up on the Wankel in favor of the MZR:

    For now there is the PRHT Miata, but hopefully Mazda will wake up soon.

  • avatar

    kansei: The MZR loses its steam above 5500 rpm but that is purely in the ECU which closes the throttle plate. Although it shouldn’t be necessary, the aftermarket solved the issue. The K04 turbo does however get less efficient at the higher revs but it spools fast and gives it a hell of a mid-range.

  • avatar

    no_slushbox: Given up on the Wankel in racing? Tell that to SpeedSource who used it to win the Daytona 24 hour last year… or the fact that it’s still the only Japanese engine to win LeMans overall.
    The only place they’ve given up on it in racing is where the class rules are written in such a way as to make the engines uncompetitive. (Or outright banned, such as LeMans after Mazda won.)

  • avatar

    When it comes to in-house engineering Ford(Dearborn) gets a big dunce cap. It seems their whole car lineup is based on Mazda platforms. This is why I view Ford as bit of a joke. Is Ford willing or capable of producing anything comparable to the Corvette or CTS without foreign assistance.

    Dearborn is loser town.

  • avatar

    Of all the domestics, I have the most sympathy and least contempt for Ford. And Mazda deserves kudos for making some fine small cars and the RX-8.

    Yeah, the rotary is odd, but it’s a heap of fun. The RX-8 is an exceptional value – for a performance/driver’s car. It’s more than worth any extra fuel, oil and/or environmental damage.

    If you’re really concerned about reliability, treat it like an A4 – lease for a couple years with the option to buy.

  • avatar

    I still believe that Mazdas are for poor people who can’t buy Hondas or Nissans for whatever reason. RX-7? 300ZX for me. MX-6? Prelude for me. My dad had two Miatas, ok, and the MPV was decent, but really now. The new Mazda 6 is just as large as the Camry/Accord – maybe sportier, but good luck with those dealers and the NSFW options pricing.

    To get to Hondas and Nissans, I’ve had to explicitly walk (run?) off of Ford and Mazda lots, and what do you know, one of my better buddies is a Ford-and-Mazda man. Apostate(?) by choice. Anyway, for Ford to sell its stakes in Mazda and Volvo is not good for Ford, Mazda, or Volvo.

  • avatar

    @mtypex: it is not like there is all that much ofa difference in price to split hairs like that. I’d say all those cars are for people who can’t afford anything better like a base BMW – but that’d sound sort of snobby, wouldn’t it?

    More importantly, I can only hope the Wankel dies and dies hard. What a waste of engineering time and talent. Bring an RX-8 with a nice turbo I-4 and go after the WRX and Evos.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    If both parties use their heads they will continue to realize how well they complement each other … and how worthwhile making the most of the relationship will be. If, on the other hand, petty thoughts and outside flirtations mess with their minds; then they are likely to ruin of a good thing.

  • avatar


    Now that Ford has to stand on its own hopefully it will stop loving the piston and learn to

    Long live the Wankel!

    Wow, 9 am and I already need a drink…

  • avatar

    What’s with the people who outright hate the Wankel? You act like an RX7 ran over your dog or something….

  • avatar

    My Porsche was smoked in a drag race by an RX3 in Orlando once. Does that count?

  • avatar

    People: you cannot fit a turbo four into the same space as a rotary without giving up something. In the case of the RSX, that something is balance.

    If you want a front-heavy knuckledragger (and I say that with the utmost respect) with hundreds of horses and lb/feet of torque, Ford has a Mustang with your name on it. If you want a slightly less front-heavy high-strung econocar, well, Mitsubishi and Subaru can fill that need.

    Have a look at the RX-8’s engine bay, then have a look at the (much larger) blown boxer four in the WRX. Try to visualize fitting that bastard into the RX-8 without stretching the hood, hanging it over the front axle, or otherwise destroying the balance of a car that shames the 911 and 3-Series.

    Yes, it uses oil. Yes, the mileage sucks. Yes, it’s gutless next to a blown piston engine. It’s a tradeoff for the car’s sublime handling. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

  • avatar

    Front heavy knuckledraggers:

    C6 Corvette
    every recent BMW
    every Aston Martin ever made
    MX-5 Miata
    Ferrari 599, 612 and California
    Porsche 928

    The RX-8 has 50/50 weight distribution, as do a number of other front engined cars. It’s not that impressive.

    MSN reliability report for the 2006 RX-8 (the last year that reliability reports are available for):

    “A periodic problem on this vehicle is failure of the engine. When the engines fail the car may flood out and fail to start due to weak compression. The cost to repair the engine is estimated at $6282.00 for parts and $722.00 for labor.”

    If I buy a well engineered (except for the engine in the case of the RX-8) Japanese sports car I want to keep it for a very long time. Leasing is for German sedans.

    My challenge remains to Mazda, offer the RX-8 with the 2 liter NA MZR and the 2.3 liter turbo MZR. See if anyone still buys the rotary version.

    If Mazda doesn’t do it maybe I’ll buy some poor guy’s failed engine RX-8 off eBay and put in an MZR. I wonder if the bellhouse matches up.

  • avatar

    The RX-8 has 50/50 weight distribution, as do a number of other front engined cars. It’s not that impressive.

    Every car you listed, save the Miata and Z, are much, much more expensive. Of those that actually compete with the RX-8, the Miata is down on power and absolute handling ability, and the Z drives like a truck.

    Lots of cars can put up better absolute numbers than the RX-8. I can’t think of very many that are quite as artful to drive. Ramming a turbo piston engine in the front would take away from that.

  • avatar

    Talking about 50/50 weight distribution over-simplifies things.

    Take a car.. put 100lbs on the front bumper, and 100lbs on the back bumper.
    Take the same car, and put 200lbs dead-center.

    Both have 50/50 weight distribution. Which do you think will handle better?

    The unique packaging of the RX8 is that not only is it 50/50, but the mass is centralized in the car, as well as it carries it lower.

    It all comes down to the polar moment of inertia.

    As for the MZR into RX8 swaps: There is an industry for people swapping Rotary engines into Miata’s.. maybe you should find somebody with a Miata who wants a Wankel and swap motors?

    The 8-year warranty that Mazda put on the Renesis (retroactive to cover all cars sold to date) should ensure you won’t find many engine-less RX8s.

  • avatar


    Yes, yes, I know all that. Nobody disputes that the Wankel has marginal advantages, the issue is that they aren’t worth the fuel economy, and especially the reliability issues.

    That’s why no other automobile or motorcycle manufacturer wastes their time with the engine even though many of them have experimented with it.

    I wasn’t aware of the 8 year engine warranty, I’ll have to look into that. That might convince me to buy an RX-8. Although it is a lot nicer to know that the engine won’t blow up than that the dealer might replace it if they aren’t an ass about the warranty.

    Putting an 8 year warranty on the engine just to try to get people to buy the car will likely convince Mazda to look into more conventional future powerplants.

  • avatar

    no_slushbox: I appreciate that the Wankel is a niche offering, and you either like it or you don’t. Hopefully I don’t come off as a raving fan-boy, but I try to at least give the technology a fair case.

    While I admit the fuel economy is not a strong-point of the rotary, this thread was enough to make me curious. According to the 2008 EPA numbers (take that for what it’s worth):
    RX-8 Combined cycle is 20MPG
    MazdaSpeed3 on Combined cycle is 22MPG

    RX8 is a RWD driveline (usually a little less efficient) but the Speed3 does have 20-30 more HP and a lot more torque.
    So, while the Turbo 2.3 would be an improvement, I hardly think it would be a swap-justifying improvement.

    As for the reliability, unfortunately the early experiments, and then the later Turbo 3rd Gens have greatly hurt the reputation. There are scores of 1st and 2nd Gen non-turbo RX7s running around with hundreds of thousands of miles on them. Non-turbo rotaries have actually proven very reliable.

    Yes, the early RX8s do have a problem, thus the recall and extended warranty. It’s not unique in the industry, it’s a known issue that has been addressed, and only impacted a minority of cars. Kind of like E46 M3 rod bearing failures before the re-design. It doesn’t seem as bad as Porsche IMS failures, Toyota oil sludge, Dodge oil sludge etc.

    For those that care (others can look away now), the operating theory on the issue is very TTAC-esque. Early engine failures were highest in North America.
    Ford/Mazda specify 5W20 oil in North America, but 5W30 (or heavier) everywhere else in the world. Why? The lighter oil has a fractional improvement on CAFE.
    Combine that with an ECU tune that favored emissions (not injecting enough oil, and runs the car rich in order to keep the Catalytic converters cool) and you have a recipe for dry apex seals, and oil-starved bearings.

    Reflash to the newer ECU tune that injects more oil (and as many do, move to a heavier weight oil) and your engine should last for a long time, especially if you take it to redline at least once a day. (And who wouldn’t want to?)

    The majority of failures seem to be in US south, amongst automatic cars (A lot more autos sold in the US than anywhere else). The heat down south put extra stress on the light weight oil.
    The ECU injected oil based on RPM, and injects very little at low RPM. The automatics have a lower redline, and tend to spend more time at lower RPMs. These issues have now largely been discovered, addressed, and fixed. Thus the reason Mazda has extended the warranty.
    I believe this site has been a big supporter of, “If you want us to believe it’s better, back it with a warranty.” Well, Mazda has.

    As a rule, rotaries live longer the more often they are revved (assuming proper maintenance, of course.)

    Unless I’m mistaken, TrueDelta has actually shown pretty decent reliability for the RX8.

    Wow… I kind of did end up sounding like a racing rotary fan-boy… sorry about that. Must be getting the itch.. just 4 more months until I get my bridge-ported 2nd Gen back on the track again…

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