Mazda’s new Alabama plant sends a message to U.S. consumers

Marketing

Mazda has a new “pride point” in the U.S. with its Huntsville, Ala., plant, which will start producing the made- for-America CX-50 crossover in January, Mazda North America CEO Jeff Guyton told Automotive News.

After ending U.S. manufacturing nearly a decade ago as part of Mazda’s breakup with Ford Motor Co., the Japanese automaker hopes to leverage its new joint-venture factory with Toyota as a brand message when communicating with consumers.

A large U.S. factory communicates a permanence in this market, Guyton said.

“Having production in the U.S., and having that home base in Alabama, gives you an awareness that there is something substantial about the company here,” he said last week.

“We want to make clear to people that the [CX-50] product is designed primarily for North America and we employ a lot of people,” Guyton said. “There is a pride point around that facility that goes beyond just building a new car.”

The Alabama plant will give Mazda 150,000 units of capacity to grow in the American market with a larger compact crossover that complements the existing CX-5, the automaker’s bestselling vehicle in the U.S. and globally.

Guyton dispelled speculation that the CX-50, which has a more rugged look, might replace the CX-5 in a few years. A similar situation happened when Mazda introduced the subcompact CX-30 in early 2020 and Mazda discontinued the smaller CX-3 a year later.

“The CX-5 is going to stay,” Guyton said. “The CX-3 was just too small for the U.S. I’m not looking to replace the CX-5 with the CX-50. I very much want to take more of that 3 million-unit segment,” Guyton said, referring to the small-crossover market where the CX-30, CX-5 and CX-50 compete with fierce rivals.

In Mazda’s estimation, the CX-5 is the more urban, sophisticated offering while the CX-50 is for the outdoor adventure lifestyle.

“The CX-5 has done a great job of trying to be all things to all people in that segment,” Guyton said. “There’s a variety of ways the CX-50 is designed for more activities.”

The CX-50 will also be Mazda’s first hybrid in the U.S. market, although the automaker has not yet offered any details on the electrified version or its possible launch date. The gasoline CX-50 will arrive in showrooms early next year.

Guyton said that Mazda’s approach to electrification is that the U.S. electric grid needs to be upgraded for mass EV adoption. Plug-in hybrids make sense in some cases, he added, because they allow drivers to make short trips on battery power while having a gasoline engine for longer journeys.

Mazda is focused on a “multi-solution approach” that will eventually include more electric vehicles.

In the meantime, Guyton said, the brand has a series of vehicles that will come out on its new “large platform” architecture.

The four future vehicles were designed with extra space for a plug-in hybrid system, Guyton said. They also will feature a new inline six-cylinder engine on a rear-wheel-drive architecture.

All of the new offerings in the Mazda lineup will allow the brand to grow globally and in the U.S., Guyton said.

“We do want to grow in the U.S. And our ambition is sort of 450,000 by the middle of the decade,” Guyton said. U.S. sales were 278,552 in 2019 before the pandemic.

“CX-50 and the large-platform vehicles will be big components of that growth,” Guyton said. “Having the large and the small platforms in the way that we have them creates more efficiency for us. So we can meet more customers’ needs globally.”

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