TOKYO -- "Engagement announcement." "Marriage." "Wonderful baby."
Akio Toyoda and Masamichi Kogai sounded more like doe-eyed lovebirds than CEOs last week when they unveiled a wide-ranging cooperation tie-up between Toyota Motor Corp. and Mazda Motor Corp. in everything from manufacturing and r&d to creating what they jointly called "a whole new set of values for cars."
For a pint-sized carmaker such as Mazda -- which sells just 1.4 million vehicles a year globally, fewer than Toyota builds in North America alone -- teaming with a titan carries clear concrete benefits.
What was more striking was Toyoda's acknowledgment that Mazda leads his company by a "full lap" in some areas.
Those include Mazda's fuel-efficient Skyactiv engines, transmissions and chassis systems, as well as its fetching Kodo design language.
Toyota engineers say privately that they have been quietly benchmarking Mazda, fascinated by its uncanny ability to churn out high-quality vehicles on a shoestring budget -- and to do so profitably from high-cost Japan.
"Mazda is ahead of us in many areas," Toyoda said, adding that Toyota engineers should draw inspiration from their Mazda colleagues. "If they can work together, they can create a great chemical reaction. A great product can be produced by that collaboration. And I feel so excited by that."
Toyota, in turn, brings to the party expertise in many of the technologies Mazda doesn't have the budget for, such as hybrid drivetrains and hydrogen fuel cells. Last year, Mazda spent only ¥108.4 billion ($906.1 million) on r&d, roughly a tenth of Toyota's $8.36 billion outlay.
Getting a hand in costly electrified drivetrains is especially crucial for Mazda as it tries to ready its gasoline-centric lineup for California's increasingly strict zero-emissions regulations.