Mazda dealers are anxious to meet James O'Sullivan, whose job will be to turbocharge Mazda's U.S. sales past the 300,000-unit level.
O'Sullivan, a 50-year-old Ford Motor Co. lifer, is the new president and CEO of Mazda North American Operations, effective April 1. He replaces Charlie Hughes, who left Feb. 26, saying he was fired.
O'Sullivan joined Ford Motor in 1976 and most recently was franchise and business development manager for the Lincoln Mercury division. Before that, he was Lincoln brand manager. He worked closely with Jaguar to lead Lincoln's introduction of the LS.
Mazda dealers expect to meet with O'Sullivan this week, says Karl Schmidt, chairman of the Mazda National Dealer Advisory Council and managing partner of Morrie's Mazda in Minnetonka, Minn.
Dealers want an executive capable of helping them sell cars today while keeping a stream of new products coming for tomorrow, Schmidt says. Too frequently, Mazda has seesawed between the two, he says. For example, the brand bungled the product momentum of the early 1990s, Schmidt says. "We do not want to repeat that mistake," he says.
"We want to be able to keep one foot in the future and on the brand and brand growth. And we want one foot in the present with sales today," he says. "We want a balance to both approaches. We want someone who will look to the future but understand that cars need to be sold today."
Dealers do not want to squander the potential of the products that are coming. "We have struggled with product for the last six to seven years and are now getting into a product stream," Schmidt says. "We need effective marketing."
The mid-sized Mazda6 sedan went on sale in December 2002. Wagon and five-door hatchback versions arrive in early 2004. The new RX-8 sports coupe goes on sale this summer. Mazda also plans to introduce the Mazda3, which borrows styling cues from the MX Sportif concept car unveiled at the Geneva auto show this month. The Mazda3 will replace the Protege.
The products are part of a plan to raise franchise sales from 258,213 in 2002 to about 300,000 this year, Mazda officials say.
Joe Chavara, owner of Central Florida Lincoln Mercury in Orlando, Fla., says O'Sullivan helped provide Lincoln with updated products. Chavara is a former chairman of the Lincoln Mercury National Dealer Council.
"I knew O'Sullivan when I was on dealer council in 1999 and 2000 and he was Lincoln brand manager," Chavara says. "A lot of the new Lincoln products we are seeing - Town Car, Aviator, LS - are because of what he did. He never walked away from anything, and that is the kind of guy the dealers like."
O'Sullivan weathered a turbulent period in Lincoln history. The brand was uprooted from Dearborn, Mich., and transplanted to Irvine, Calif. It is back in Michigan.
Lincoln began moving to become a global luxury brand and then retrenched as a North American marketer. Critics say Lincoln showrooms lack vehicles with striking new sheet metal today. But supporters argue that dollars were spent re-engineering the Town Car and the LS, redesigning the Navigator and introducing the Aviator.
O'Sullivan worked in three Lincoln Mercury administrations: those of Mark Hutchins, Brian Kelley and Darryl Hazel, current Lincoln Mercury president.
O'Sullivan is an adept sales and marketing executive, says one dealer who has worked with him.
He was involved in the development of the Lincoln Premier Experience dealership certification program, which dealers like, unlike Ford Division's Blue Oval certification pro, according to the dealer. "He is a straight-shooter who keeps the needs of the retailers in mind when assessing initiatives."