The growing global joint-venture between Mazda and Toyota could have implications for Australia’s massive light commercial sector.
Ford and Mazda have made utes together for multiple generations — Ford used to have a large interest in the Japanese brand — and are partners in an AutoAlliance plant in Thailand that makes the BT-50 and Ranger.
Each of these models is massive in Australia, and both were developed locally. The Ranger is Ford’s top-selling car, while the BT-50 is Mazda’s number three, and up in 2015.
Australia is one of the world’s biggest LCV markets, with utes making up about one-in-seven vehicle sales. The business case for both the Ranger and BT-50 depends on local market requirements, but much more so for the Mazda.
The current generations of both the Ford and Mazda have just come in for mid-life updates as they pass their four-year mark of service. The Ranger got a large-scale makeover of its interior, more safety equipment and engine tweaks. The imminent updated BT-50 will get fewer changes.
At this point Mazda needs to commence development of the next-generation model. A joint-venture is the most cost-effective option — Mazda lacks the scale to go it alone, having axed the BT-50 for Europe — meaning either a renewed JV with Ford, or an extension of its new JV with Toyota.
For all the Ranger’s success, the Toyota HiLux still reigns as the class-leader, and at times even serves as Australia’s top-selling vehicle bar none.
Australian media including CarAdvice spoke with Mazda Motor Corporation managing executive officer for sales and marketing Masahiro Moro this week in Frankfurt.
“We are working on a future program. It is very early days," he said, referring the the next BT-50 but not elaborating on the specifics.
"At this stage, it is not my call to discontinue BT-50 as it is critical to Australia, New Zealand and some South-East Asian countries. But if we follow the current path, the BT-50 will get adequate updates.”
Adequate, but not class-leading? Moro-san was pressed on the potential to extend the reach of the Toyota JV, an issue he described as sensitive. And, when asked to expand on a hypothetical, he declined to comment without a flat denial.
“I honestly don’t know,” he said. “They [Toyota] do have pick-up trucks in North America and Asia, but I truly don’t know because we have not discussed.”
“We don’t have a complete agenda yet,” he said. “This alliance was formed with the clear articulation of working together to develop better cars.”
Granted, much of this is speculation. But we understand from sources that it is not entirely without basis either. It’s something to watch.