CHICAGO -- Mazda Motor Corp.'s plan to build small cars in Mexico starting in 2014 is part of a larger strategy to assert itself as a brand of small, fuel-efficient vehicles.
Jim O'Sullivan, CEO of Mazda Motor North American Operations, says the new Mexico plant will allow Mazda to pursue twin goals: having a North American manufacturing base for high-volume products and being more competitive as it rolls out Skyactiv, its new fuel-economy and performance brand identity.
Skyactiv is Mazda's product-development plan to make use of small, high-efficiency engines, including direct injection and diesels, along with advanced transmissions and lighter weight vehicle packaging.
"By 2015, 85 percent of our lineup in the U.S. will incorporate Skyactiv," O'Sullivan says. "Mexico will be an important part of that."
So far, only the 2012 Mazda3 is offered with a Skyactiv powertrain. The 2013 CX-5 will offer Skyactiv features when it appears in April.
Mazda intends to produce the small Mazda2 and Mazda3 in a new $500 million plant in Salamanca, north of Mexico City. The plant eventually will serve as the cars' export base, supplying retailers in North America, Europe, Brazil and Latin America.
The Mexico strategy is a big step beyond Mazda's North American manufacturing presence of the past 20 years. The mid-sized Mazda6 is currently built at a plant in Flat Rock, Mich., which Mazda opened in 1987 and now owns jointly with Ford Motor Co.
But Mexico will be an integrated automaking center, including local production of four-cylinder engines and other key components, O'Sullivan says.
Mazda will end U.S. production of the Mazda6 this year and build the next 6 in Japan. O'Sullivan emphasizes that although Ford needs the extra production space at Flat Rock, Mazda will retain its ownership in the auto plant. As for building another product there, he said: "As the market comes back, we'll re-examine to see what we need."