TOKYO -- Mazda Motor Corp.'s CEO designate, Masamichi Kogai, had a big hand in creating the more stable, profitable carmaker he inherits. But formidable challenges lie ahead.
The manufacturing and purchasing specialist spent the last four years overhauling the export-reliant carmaker's manufacturing base to be leaner, more flexible and more resistant to currency swings.
The revamped line of Skyactiv vehicles he helped shepherd costs less to produce and delivers higher margins and sales than the ones they replaced. And Kogai, 58, showed his expertise during a trial by fire when, immediately after Japan's devastating March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, he was put in charge of sorting out and reinforcing the carmaker's shattered supply chain and production system.
When he takes office after Mazda's June 25 annual shareholders' meeting, he will be running a company that just reported its first annual profit in five years. The momentum is clearly in the right direction, but Mazda's recovery is still fragile.
Outgoing CEO Takashi Yamanouchi, 68, has handed Kogai a structural reform plan that is only half finished.
One of the plan's goals is to boost global sales to 1.7 million vehicles in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2016, up about 37 percent from roughly 1.2 million in the fiscal year that just ended. Mazda also targets operating profit of ¥150 billion, or about $1.47 billion, in that year, not quite triple the $572.8 million Mazda earned last year.
"I'm convinced this structural reform is the right way to go," Kogai said. "Right now the whole company is working on that midterm plan, and I will work toward that with all my heart and soul."
Kogai, who loves baseball and is a manager of Mazda's company rugby team, said closer teamwork will deliver those results.
Despite rebounding to profit on a global scale, Mazda's sales in the United States -- its biggest market -- have fallen each month this year, for a cumulative January-April decline of 5 percent.
Mazda's North American operations just notched a fourth straight year of operating losses. Mazda expects the region to return to profit in the current fiscal year that began April 1. But a looming uncertainty remains its half ownership, along with Ford Motor Co., of an assembly plant in the Detroit suburb of Flat Rock, Mich. Mazda no longer produces vehicles there, and hasn't hinted at any plans to use the plant to build future Mazdas.