TOKYO -- Mazda Motor Corp. has named Americas chief Akira Marumoto its new CEO as the second-tier Japanese carmaker -- with its limited r&d budget and reliance on old-school combustion engines -- confronts big challenges in the new era of electrification, autonomous driving and connected cars.
Marumoto, 60, currently Mazda's executive vice president, will take office June 26, pending approval at the company's annual shareholders' meeting that month, the company said in a Friday news release. He takes the baton from Masamichi Kogai, 63, the production specialist who steered Mazda into its latest generation of products. Kogai will become chairman.
As part of the management shuffle, Senior Managing Executive Officer Kiyoshi Fujiwara will be promoted to executive vice president in charge of North America and r&d.
Fujiwara, 58, currently oversees r&d and cost innovation.
Kogai, who has led as president and CEO since 2013, piloted the Hiroshima-based carmaker through a complicated transition to a new crop of Skyactiv vehicles with lightweight, sportier platforms and more fuel efficient direct-injection engines. The production specialist also oversaw the transformation of the factories to a more flexible, cost-saving assembly system.
Kogai has also tried to move the brand's image more upmarket to shore up profitability and secure help on urgently needed next-generation technologies through partnerships.
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Mazda has faced challenges on both fronts.
Its image overhaul is still a work in progress in the crucial U.S. market. U.S. sales were up 15 percent in the first four months of the year but dropped 2.8 percent in 2017.
In the U.S., Marumoto has been directing a three-year dealership upgrade aimed at improving about 130 in total.
Mazda is buttressing its retail network while seeking to bolster its brand image and market share without resorting to aggressive incentives. Kogai has said he wants to lift U.S. market share to a sustainable 2 percent.
Mazda’s share hit 2 percent for the first four months of 2018, up from 1.7 percent for all of 2017.
To bolster its U.S. business, Mazda will jointly build a new assembly plant with Toyota Motor Corp. in Alabama to manufacture a new crossover. Production at the new plant, planned for 2021, will enable Mazda to eventually sell 2 million vehicles globally, from 1.66 million expected this year.
Mazda has been racing to tilt its car-heavy lineup more toward hot-selling and more profitable crossovers. To move cars such as the Mazda3 and Mazda6 sedans, it has been piling on costly incentives that hurt the bottom line.
And despite partnering with Toyota, in a deal through which the companies took stakes in each other, Mazda remains a follower in fields such as electrification and autonomous driving. The carmaker is now part of a Toyota-led alliance to develop electric vehicle platforms, but the consortium has yet to announce any concrete outcomes.
Still, Kogai has put Mazda on the path to next-generation products with his announcement last year of a slate of new Skyactiv-X technologies and a revamped design language.
It will be Marumoto's task to execute the plan and deliver sustainable growth.
The push kicks off in 2019 with a new vehicle architecture that will simplify manufacturing by underpinning nearly every vehicle in Mazda's lineup, from the CX-9 large crossover to possibly the Mazda2 subcompact hatchback. The architecture will weigh less, cost less and deliver a quieter ride with crisper handling and better rigidity.
The platform's floor pan was designed to accommodate batteries for electrified cars.
In that same year, Mazda will add an EV and a mild hybrid vehicle.
Also in 2019, the carmaker will launch a new generation of its Mazda Connect on-the-go infotainment system. The company isn't providing details about it but hints at something akin to ride-hailing. Mazda is calling it a "new business model that enables car owners to support the needs of people in depopulated areas and those who have difficulty getting around."
The rollout continues into 2020 with an autonomous driving function dubbed Co-pilot and a second-generation Skyactiv-D diesel engine. A plug-in hybrid vehicle wraps up the drive in 2021.
Key to the campaign is Mazda's Skyactiv-X engine, Hitomi's long-shot gamble.
Mazda calls it the world's first workable compression-ignited gasoline engine and said it will deploy the engine in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2019.