DETROIT - Now that Mazda Motor Corp. is back in the black, newly minted president Mark Fields has to keep his troops' noses to the grindstone.
It would be a natural reaction for Mazda's hard-pressed employees to ease up just a little. But Fields, a 38-year-old Ford Motor marketing whiz who was named Mazda president Dec. 15, knows there is plenty of hard work ahead.
Mazda has taken the past five years proving to Ford that it was worth rescuing. Now it can pay back the favor by actually contributing to Ford's balance sheet.
'There's no finish line in our business,' Fields said in an interview at the Detroit auto show. 'Mazda has made tremendous progress, but we can't stop and declare victory. If we don't change, we'll start to deteriorate.'
Fields' need to keep Mazda moving forward will benefit from Nissan Motor Co.'s dramatic restructuring plan. While Mazda in the past has sold some affiliates and tinkered with its assets, it has been conservative compared with the chainsaw being taken to Nissan.
'Our approach has not been to make a bold statement. What Nissan has done has shaken up the industry. There are large cultural and economic ramifications to that,' Fields said.
But, he says, the jury is out on whether Nissan's approach will result in loyal employees or customers. 'We need to engender commitment rather than demand compliance,' he said.
That applies to Mazda's supplier network, too. Fields is pushing ahead with predecessor James Miller's plan to find $1 billion in cash flow improvements in the supplier chain.
A large chunk of those savings may come from increased sourcing of parts from outside Japan, especially from Europe, as Mazda continues to seek ways to reduce its exposure to currency swings. The company now sources only 17 percent of its total parts needs outside Japan.
Mazda also may begin building cars at a Ford plant in Europe. Production in Europe 'is one of the options that we are looking at right now,' Fields said at a New Year's reception for foreign journalists in Tokyo.
'We must develop a strategy that better optimizes our global sourcing,' he said.
He also said Mazda would become much more aggressive in Internet marketing in Japan, and will join in Ford's TradeXchange Internet purchasing system 'sooner rather than later.'
At the same time, Fields realizes Mazda has a commitment to suppliers in the local Hiroshima community, the company's home: He is not free to put hometown folk out of work just because another supplier promised to shave ¥5 off the cost of a solenoid.
'We have to balance good business with being a good corporate citizen,' Fields said.
SEEKING A UNIFIED IMAGE
Since Fields is a marketing maven, one of his personal priorities is to build a unified image for Mazda in all the world's markets.
'We need to figure out how we coordinate our brand globally, how we match our product philosophy and brand DNA and how we can have marketing work with r&d as sort of a matched pair,' Fields said.
He said Mazda wants to raise its U.S. sales 16.8 percent in 2000 to 285,000. That would raise its market share about 0.4 point, to 1.8 percent.
In Europe, Mazda aims to raise its sales 3.7 percent to 250,000 in 2000, from 241,000 in 1999, Fields said. In Japan, it is targeting sales of 335,000, up 6.3 percent.
Joining Fields' team is Philip Martens, a career Ford engineer who replaces Martin Leach as Mazda's product czar. Leach was promoted to head Ford of Europe's small- car operations.
Martens expects to give more control of product development to local markets. That means lots of trips to Mazda's Southern California studios.
'We need to better leverage our r&d in America. We need to use our styling studios as focal points and catalysts,' the 39-year-old Martens said.
'Character and soul must be in our products. We have to develop showcase vehicles that are global in nature but local in focus.'
Martens is particularly high on the future of the RX-Evolv concept car. It hints at a vehicle that likely will be derived from the next Miata platform as both a sports car and sports sedan.
'We want to bring back the spirit of the Mazda brand. The RX-Evolv may not be a high-volume car, but it will be a real talk-about car that brings back pride of ownership and that embodies the brand,' Martens said.
He wants that same spirit to filter down to the more mundane products such as the 626 mid-sized sedan.
'When we finish with a car, it must be a case of this and that, not this or that,' Martens said. 'As soon as you compromise with a market, it leaves you in a hole.'
Staff Reporter James B. Treece in Tokyo contributed to this report