There is a new Japanese bride on the Match.com equivalent of the international auto business. It’s Mazda. Despite pronouncements that Mazda’s “strategic alliance with Ford will remain unshaken” (as uttered at a Monday press conference by Mazda Executive VP Masaharu Yamaki,) everybody who knows the business knows: The bloom is off the rose between Mazda and Ford. What’s more, Mazda is on the prowl to do some nampa with another potent partner. Who will it be?
Currently, all eyes are on Toyota. Last week, we reported that Toyota will sell Mazda the innards necessary to build a Prius-like Mazda hybrid. But Mazda doesn’t want an erector kit; they want to build the stuff themselves. So on Monday, Mazda announced it will get Toyota’s hybrid technologies under a license agreement. Says The Nikkei [sub]: “The deal, which allows Mazda to launch its own hybrid model as early as 2013, is the carmaker’s strategic response to its weakening ties with Ford Motor Co., which has reduced its stake in the Japanese company to about 11 percent from more than one-third.”
The former technological cooperation already has degraded down to mere “exchanges of information.” The information that is exchanged has no value. If an executive from Ford wants to attend a meeting at Mazda, the matters discussed must be carefully vetted beforehand and signed-off in advance. An outside vendor has better access to Mazda internals than Ford.
With both partners living in separation and under no-contact orders, “Mazda is now open to the idea of partnering with other automakers as a way to survive in the rapidly changing competitive landscape in the industry,” says the Nikkei.
The hybrid deal doesn’t mean the Mazda wants to marry Toyota. Mazda simply doesn’t want to spend a lot of money to develop hybrid models as long as hybrids only command a tiny market share, said a top Mazda executive. What’s more, Toyota has locked-up so many patents around hybrids technology that it’s cheaper to pay now than to develop and get in trouble later.
And if hybrids take off, Mazda wants to one-up Toyota. Let’s face it, a hybrid still needs an ICU. And Mazda thinks they have an ace in the hole with a new-generation engine called SKY, which will be installed in the maker’s mainstay models from 2011. That engine already has a 15-20 percent better fuel efficiency than Mazda’s current mills. Mazda is working on a gasoline compact car that gets better mileage than Honda’s Insight.
Once that SKY-engine is paired with the licensed Toyota technologies, Mazda hopes to offer the most fuel-efficient vehicle on the market. Suddenly, that bride looks very attractive, especially to European car makers, where Japanese brides are held in high regard. Excellent choice, I might add.