NEW YORK - Mark Fields vows that Mazda will not repeat its mistakes.
The Mazda Motor Corp. president says he understands the similarities between the automaker's plan to unleash 11 products within the next three years, and what happened during another product blitz a decade ago.
But this time will be different, Fields said, speaking last week at a product briefing here for analysts and journalists.
From 1989 to 1991, Mazda doubled its offerings in 18 months, expanded to five sales channels in Japan and launched the ill-fated Amati luxury brand in America - just as the global economy tanked.
Mazda was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the launch and has spent the last decade recovering.
Although the circumstances seem eerily similar today, they won't lead to the same results, Fields vows.
'It's important to have a good cadence to our cycle plan, rather than have peaks and valleys. We have to look at our ability to fund those 11 product launches,' Fields said.
He said the last barrage was chaotic as product managers and engineers independently created what they thought was a Mazda. There was zero cooperation between vehicle teams.
'Our brand strategy is matched to our product portfolio. Before, no one could tell if all those cars were Mazdas. Now, from 50 feet away, people are going to see the design cues and know it's a Mazda,' he said.
'The cars should build on one another, rather than being points in time. I think we have one of the clearest brand-building plans in the industry.'
Doubling U.S. share
Fields declared that Mazda will double its North American market share to 3 percent by the end of the decade. That will be funded by a 30 percent increase in product development spending during the next five years - global recessions be damned.
'We have overpromised and underdelivered. We don't have the budgets of a Toyota or Nissan, so we have to be focused,' Fields said.
Mazda also is answering longstanding complaints that its vehicles are underpowered by significantly bumping up horsepower and cubic inches for the U.S. market.
Fields also admitted that Mazda is studying renaming its products on a global basis. 'There is equity in the existing names, and there is investment required to change them. But I don't want the same product named five different things in five countries. I want something close to global naming, but not at the expense of a vehicle's relevancy in a particular market,' Fields said.
But not everyone is convinced the product onslaught will be a success.
AutoPacific analyst Jim Hall said Mazda needs its products to be '10 percent better and nicer' than Toyota and Honda to get consumers to check them out.
Commenting on Mazda's U.S. volume leader, Hall said: 'The new 626 looks good, much better than the current one. But the new Camry comes this fall, and the new Accord next year. I don't know if this 626 will look as good then.'
Although Mazda did not reveal all 11 of its upcoming products, product development chief Phil Martens shared details on some of them. He disclosed:
The next 626 is longer, wider and more powerful than the current 626. Its design blends the current 626 with an Acura 3.2TL and Audi A4. A wagon with one-touch folding rear seats will come to the United States as well, looking similar to an Audi A4 Avant, but costing significantly less. A five-door hatchback version is being studied.
The 626 powerplants will be a 2.3-liter inline-four and a 3.0-liter V-6 with variable valve timing, while the suspension will be double wishbones up front and multi-link at the rear. Production of the mid-sized lineup will start in 2002.
The 626 will be the basis for Ford's next global mid-sized car.
The next Protege will borrow parts from the Ford Focus but look nothing like it. Both a sedan and five-door hatchback will come to America. New inline 2.0- and 2.3-liter four-cylinder engines will power it. Production will start in 2003.
The RX-8 will keep its four-door, four-seat architecture but also spawn a two-seat sport coupe. Both will be powered by a 250-hp rotary engine. Production will start in late 2002.
The next Miata will live on the RX platform but keep its traditional basic piston-engined flavor.
A vehicle similar to the MX Sport Tourer shown at the Geneva auto show may replace the plain-vanilla Millenia sedan. Said Fields: 'A D-size sedan is not relevant to all customers. We cannot get caught up in running after the competition.'
That also may apply to various pickup segments that may not be in tune with Mazda's brand image, Fields said.
'We are the guardians of an 81-year-old Japanese company with a heritage of innovation,' Fields said. 'We need to revive that image.'