Mazda last assembled vehicles in the U.S. a decade ago with then-partner Ford Motor Co. in Flat Rock, Mich. Mazda ended production of the Mazda6 sedan at the plant in 2012 amid weak sales and red ink from its North American operations. The automaker opened a Mexico plant in 2014.
In recent years, Mazda has found its footing after struggling with its identity as a small Asian brand in a sea of competition. It has successfully moved upmarket with plush trims, redesigned models and new crossovers, including the subcompact CX-30 that launched in 2020.
Mazda's sales of 332,756 last year marked its best performance since 1994. The automaker did a good job managing the global semiconductor shortage with 19 percent sales growth over 2020, according to company data.
"As we have done globally, we will continue to monitor the chip situation," Guyton said when asked about supplies for the CX-50 launch. "To date, we have worked closely with our partners and prepared well. I'm pleased we are launching production on time."
Guyton also noted that dealership throughput — unit sales per dealership — set a record in 2021. "We're working closely with suppliers so that we can continue to grow our business in the U.S. and drive network profits," he said.
Despite the pandemic and the wave of infections from the omicron variant in the U.S., Guyton said the labor situation at the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant is stable. Toyota began production of the Corolla Cross subcompact in September. It is unrelated to the CX-50.
"Despite the overall impact of COVID-19, MTM operations have progressed as planned," Guyton said of the Alabama facility. "They are still hiring, and we're excited to get the remaining roles filled as we ramp up CX-50 production."
The Mazda-Toyota venture kicked off four years ago with the announcement of a $1.6 billion factory with capacity of 300,000 vehicles per year, evenly split between the two automakers.
Total investment in the joint venture rose to $2.3 billion after the automakers added $830 million to the price tag in 2020 for more machinery and training.
Mazda has said its first volume hybrid for North America will be a future CX-50 model using Toyota technology. It has plans for a separate plug-in hybrid based on the MX-30 EV that is sold only in California but has not set a launch date.
Mazda has not offered additional information on the CX-50 hybrid. At launch, CX-50s will come with the automaker's corporate four-cylinder engine, including a turbocharged option. Pricing and trim levels will be released closer to the on-sale date in the spring, Guyton said.
The 2023 CX-50 is slightly bigger than Mazda's bestselling CX-5, although both are classified as compact crossovers.
Mazda is positioning the CX-50 as a rugged adventure vehicle compared with the more city-friendly CX-5, which was freshened last year and will remain in production, Guyton has said.
"Mazda is taking this opportunity to build on CX-5's success by expanding in this segment with a vehicle purpose-built for outdoor enthusiasts and customers with a more active lifestyle," Guyton said.