The oft-discussed partnership between Isuzu Ute and Mazda, which will see the former provide utility vehicles to the latter, remains a subject of intense sensitivity and secrecy.
However, we can clarify, for anyone not quite clear on the deal announced last July, that the deal is a supplier partnership rather than a joint-venture.
What this means is that Isuzu will develop and build the next D-Max in Thailand for launch around 2020-21, and then sell the design — including the chassis, drivetrain and very possibly the body — to Mazda, which will in-turn sell a version of it as the next BT-50.
This will essentially make the next BT-50’s relationship with the next D-Max akin to the Renault Alaskan’s relationship with the Nissan Navara — a spin-off rather than a co-developed model. The only difference is that Nissan and Renault co-own each other.
Clarification on the deal came from Isuzu Motors president Yoichi Masuda, who told us recently that the deal will see “our own design pickups [going] to Mazda”, but he added that it remained very touchy as a conversation point.
Clearly the specifics are being hammered out, though suffice to say the next D-Max and BT-50 will use an Isuzu diesel engine developed in large part by its separate truck division to meet ever-stricter emissions regulations.
Isuzu is among the world’s biggest heavy-duty diesel producers, but its Thailand-based light commercial division (responsible for Isuzu D-Max and MU-X) will benefit from Mazda’s cash.
In turn, Mazda gets a readymade tough base for much less than the cost of developing a BT-50 successor alone — something with no viable business case anyway given a lack of demand in many key markets. Whether it makes changes to the body beyond badging, and the cabin, remains to be seen.
The logical extension of this symbiosis would be for Isuzu to take some of Mazda’s cabin tech and active safety software/hardware - areas where it has the edge all over Isuzu. However, scope for this remains unclear.
Pictured: Mazda CX-5 cabin
“We understand Mazda does have very sophisticated tech, coming from passenger vehicles, but so far it is also a touchy subject,” Masuda said.
Isuzu and Mazda’s partnership announcement saw the former sever its deal with General Motors that produced the current D-Max/Holden Colorado, and the latter end its venture with Ford that yielded the even closer-related current BT-50/Ranger. At the same time, the Ranger will get much-needed scale thanks to an imminent American launch.
As we have reported, Australia is Isuzu’s biggest export market in the world for the D-Max, while Mazda Australia was a key driver in getting its parent company in Hiroshima to negotiate the Isuzu supply deal. We are one of the world’s major 4x4 utility markets.
One area that's also still unclear is whether the Isuzu-Mazda deal might see the former offering the next iteration of the rugged MU-X SUV to the latter.
Mazda does not offer a rival to the MU-X currently, or other popular models such as the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and Toyota Prado. Instead, its SUVs are softer city-focused crossovers such as the CX-3, CX-5 and CX-9.
Isuzu has made clear it won't be offering additional model lines any time soon, because it needs to spend what cash it has on future-proofing its cars from an environmental/emissions perspective. Should Mazda offer to pay for another badge deal, it just might listen...