Australia was a key driver in Mazda’s decision to enter a joint-venture (JV) arrangement with Isuzu Ute to collaborate on the next-generation BT-50 and D-Max ute/pickup trucks, due around 2020.
As announced in July, the two Japanese companies ditched existing ute JVs (Mazda with Ford, Isuzu with General Motors, which we already know plans to move upmarket with the next Colorado) and buddied up to better amortise costs.
The basic agreement will see Isuzu produce the next generation of Mazda utes, based on Isuzu’s pickup model. In other words, Mazda will again top-hat another brand’s platform and tweak mechanical elements, but will not co-develop the architecture from day one.
Who gets what? Isuzu will get greater scale and therefore be able to spend more keeping the next D-Max modern, while Mazda will be able to remain strong in core markets, again including Australia, and inject design flair atop typically tough Isuzu mechanicals.
Mazda Australia managing director Martin Benders told us this week that the JV would be “excellent” for his brand here, and cited the local division’s major role in the deal getting done.
“The ute market is critical for our market in Australia and the business in general in Australia. HQ accepted that and understood it, [and] negotiated this JV to help us,” he said.
“It will go to other markets but we have been the principle driver and we are glad they have listened. You earn that respect by making commitments and delivering on them.
“They have a reasonable degree of confidence we can deliver with ute as we have delivered with other promises we have made.”
Australia is a key market for both brands. It’s Isuzu Ute’s main market beyond Thailand, and Mazda is Australia’s number-one full vehicle importer, a rarefied status.
Additionally, light commercials are not particularly important for most of the company’s other key regions, notably the US, China and Europe.
By comparison, the top-selling vehicle in Australia last year was a ute — the Toyota HiLux, while the Ford Ranger and Mitsubishi Triton occupied spots inside the top ten. Utes accounted for 16.2 per cent share of the total market last year.
While the BT-50 is outsold by its Ranger twin well over 2:1, and by others such as the Toyota HiLux, Mitsubishi Triton, Holden Colorado and, indeed, the D-Max, it remains Mazda’s fourth most popular model, and a lynchpin of its sales.
Speaking about the end of the Mazda-Ford arrangement, development for which was based on the Australian-engineered T6 architecture, Benders was philosophical.
“The current ute is a great ute, we think it offers pretty good value, no doubt about that.
“[But] that relationship is on the wane for whatever reason though. Not a bad relationship, in that it isn't antagonistic, it's moved on to new places. We already have a relationship with Isuzu in Japan, it’s not an un-natural thing for us.”
Isuzu has produced trucks for Mazda in Japan for more than 10 years, so it’s not a new friendship.
This follows on from comments we got from Mazda Australia marketing boss Alastair Doak late last year, who said the JV had been met with universally strong support from its dealer network and other key stakeholders.
Mazda executives have always said that the only way it could make a ute such as the BT-50 viable was to use another brand’s architecture.
The deal also continues the trend of big car-makers sharing platforms. As we know, Renault and Mercedes-Benz are making utes spun off the Nissan NP300 Navara, a model which is also tipped to be the platform source for the next Mitsubishi Triton.