May 22, 2015

Horse 1904 - Divorce Is A Messy Thing - Ford And Mazda

The Ford and Mazda divorce settlement almost appears to be over, with the parting of the ways almost complete.
Ford Motor Company which both 7% of Mazda in 1979 gradually increased its shareholding to 33% by 1996 but ever since the global financial crisis, it's been gradually shedding Mazda stocks like discarded layers of an onion.
Apparently the real world consequences of this are that the sharing between the two firms which has taken place since the 1980s, has finally stopped; with the last shared platform car being the Mazda CX-3 which shares its platform with the oddly named  Ford EcoSport and Fiesta (and Mazda's own 2).

The model sharing arrangement goes right back to 1980 with the Laser/Meteor-323, Telstar-626, Econovan-Bongo pairs. Yes, I'm seriously not making this up, Mazda had a van called a Bongo. If you also got the camper top, it became the Mazda Bongo Friendee van. The Laser was called the Escort in North America and when a rationalisation took place, the Focus and 3 were the first pair to replace the old guard. Now that the CX-3 has finally been released, the two automotive giants have decided to part ways.

For Ford this isn't so much of a problem because Ford have tended to horde their own engines and they are the partner who developed and owned all the platforms. For Mazda, this makes things a little bit cloudy, for whilst they still retain their SKY-G series of engines, when it comes time to update the platforms, they're in trouble.
Ford's cars for almost 40 years have been nothing short of dynamically excellent. The Fiesta, Focus and Mondeo have all been consistently nice cars to drive; with the Fiesta and Focus being better than even the VW Polo and Golf. Mazda have recently ridden on Ford's back with their 3, all the way to the top of the sales charts in Australia on occasion (knocking off Corolla, HiLux and Commodore) but in Europe where motorway speeds are higher than Australia, Asia or North America, they're still seen as wheezy and quite a bit naff.

The relationship between Mazda and Ford has on occasion been quite firey, with the darkest hours happening in the 1990s. In Europe, there was a demand for a smaller car than the Fiesta and so they relegated the development job to Mazda who they expected should have experience in that sort of thing because they had sold the Carol in Japan. Mazda responded with a car so monumentally rubbish that it was ultimately contracted out to Korea to build and Mazda wiped their hands of the affair. The car was sold in various markets as the Mazda 121, the Ford Festiva or the Kia Pride which was amusing as every example was built with as much apathy and contempt as it deserved. In the meantime, Mazda had come out with their cheeky little 121 "bubble" car and in response, Ford shrunk their Fiesta platform and developed the Ka and the Puma (the latter as a direct competitor to Opel's Tigra). The Ka (which I had) was very nearly European Car of The Year for 1996 because it was fun in every which way to Thursday to drive and because it had the Kent 105E engine was mechanically bulletproof.

Ford have ruled the charts in Britain since practically 1963 with the Cortina, Escort, Focus all holding the record of ten years at the top.of the charts straight and the Fiesta is probably set to do the same. In the next cycle, Ford's EcoSport, Fiesta, Focus, C-Max, Kuga, Mondeo and S-Max are all pretty well sorted. Mazda's 2, 3, 6, CX-3, CX-5, CX-7 and CX-9 have a problem because Mazda will need to develop the platforms themselves.
As far as styling goes, I think that Mazdas are currently prettier than Fords but given the choice between the two, I'd still rather have a Henry. That's mainly because I know that you have to live with a car for many years and I'd rather drive something that feels like it was invented by British boffins and nutters who wanted something fun but had sensibility built into it by German engineers, than something which although might be technically fine because it was developed by Japanese technophiles, doesn't have that same sense of lunacy hiding in the background. The Lexus SC430 for instance should be brilliant but feels like it was made from marshmallows and super-hi bouncy balls and the Toyota 86, has all the suppleness of a jackhammer.

Mazda's secret weapon though will be if they can convince the three guys who work in that corner office, who spend all day throwing paper balls at each other and chucking paper planes out the window, those three guys who worked on the ab-so-lute-ly stellar MX-5, to work on their other cars, maybe Mazda will be saved.

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