Friday, June 19, 2020

MINNOW WITH MOXIE by John Crawford

That’s Mazda. While most of the automotive world is rushing to embrace electric cars and alternative powerplants, Mazda continues to pursue perfection of the internal combustion engine. 

Debuting the SkyActive-X petrol engine, Mazda appears determined to persevere with a technology most of the world’s largest carmakers seem prepared to abandon.

By global standards of measurement, Mazda is a ‘minnow’ – trailing behind Toyota, Nissan and Honda, but it remains a company driven by principles of engineering perfection. In spite of the push toward batteries, plug-ins and fuel cells, Mazda is sticking with technology it knows well, and has declared it will continue to develop.


In my mind, there is no car available today which reflects Mazda’s determination to be different, and ready to dominate the world of the auto enthusiast, which most other car makers are deserting, than the Mazda MX-5 (or if you’re reading this in the USA, the Miata).

No other carmaker is promoting sports cars, leaving the field open for Mazda to dominate the segment. And, in blunt terms let’s call the MX-5 the world’s only genuine sports car - reminiscent of the MG TC, MG-B or the Austin Healey Sprite.


The MX-5 strives for absolute lightness, a great power-to-weight ratio, no overweight extras, and fantastic performance for the money. It also handles brilliantly and delivers driving enjoyment in spades.

Having just driven the 2020 MX-5, I can sense that whilst the specifications differ little from last year’s car, the turn-in is sharper, there’s a crispness to the 2.0L engine and the six-speed manual is the definitive knife-through-butter experience.

The MX-5 is truly ‘superleggera’ (super-light) and doesn’t have anything it doesn’t need, to keep weight down - well maybe except for air conditioning, but then it would be impossible to sell this car to the pampered population of the US West Coast without aircon.


However, before we get carried away with a basic two-seater, let’s look at the rest of the range. This relatively small company has captured big chunks of the Crossover and SUV market with a range of brilliant models like the CX-3, CX-30 and the CX-5.


In addition, despite other carmakers turning away from passenger cars, there’s the Mazda 2, Mazda 3 and Mazda 6 – all extremely competent, high quality, and enjoyable to drive.

I have a number of friends who have deserted high-priced Europeans, for the quality and value of the lower-priced CX-3 and CX-5.

By the same token, Mazdas are not ‘cheap’ cars. Striving to build a reputation for quality, Mazda has pushed retail prices above most of its competition, but its aspiration for premium status is supported by extraordinary reliability, strong dealer support and excellent driving dynamics.

But, all is not rosy for Mazda. The company has its share of problems too. Despite the comparatively small size of the Australian market, it is nonetheless Mazda’s strongest. Mazda has suffered a big fall in sales globally, thanks to COVID19, but even before that it was carrying USD$4.32bn in interest-bearing debt, and has been forced to apply to Japan’s big banks for a fund raising totalling USD$2.93bn.


This deteriorating sales position has forced the closure of Mazda’s Japanese factories, in order to sell-out built stock.


Global sales have been steadily tracking down, and in the USA sales have fallen almost 42%, with its passenger cars down by double digits. However, one bright spot are strong MX-5 sales.

Mazda’s Japanese management says it’s concerned, but emphasises it is in a strong position to recover. Let’s hope so.

I think Mazda is a company to be admired for its focus and determination on continually improving its ICE powertrains, including the SkyActiv-X engine, and improving quality and refinement.

In the automotive world I think Mazda is a standout.

John Crawford

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