Mazda Taps Americas Boss As New CEO; No Shortage of Risk Lies Ahead

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Image: Mazda

The man who spent the last five years overseeing Mazda’s North American operations will soon lead the company. Akira Marumoto, 60, takes the helm of the automaker on June 26th, the company announced Friday.

The moves comes as Mazda prepares to introduce a revolutionary type of gasoline engine, the Skyactiv-X, in the hopes of proving its complete reliance on internal combustion cars does not make it a dinosaur.

Marumoto, seen in the center of the above photo, accepted his current position in June of 2013. In succeeding president and CEO Masamichi Kogai (who becomes chairman), Marumoto must continue growing the automaker’s global sales and making the best of its strategic partnership with Toyota. It’s a good thing Marumoto knows a lot about the Americas.

Under Kogai, Mazda continued with its plan to put high-compression Skyactiv engines in all of its vehicles while moving the brand slightly upmarket. The current-generation MX-5 and CX-3 subcompact crossover appeared on his watch, while the latter vehicle’s platform mate, the Mazda 2 (Demio), arrived in the Americas as a Toyota-badged vehicle. Speaking of that automaker, the 2015 partnership came about after Mazda, being of limited resources, decided Toyota’s electrification technology could help it keep up with green vehicle expectations — while cutting down on R&D costs.

Toyota bought a 5 percent stake in Mazda last year.

Unlike other Japanese brands, Mazda’s domestic sales pale compared to those in Europe, China, and especially North America. In 2017, North American Mazda sales were more than double that of its Japanese home market. A new American-market crossover slated for a joint Mazda-Toyota plant in Huntsville, Alabama will go a long way to helping Mazda reach its global sales goal of 2 million vehicles in 2024. Or so Mazda hopes.

The split Huntsville plant starts production in 2021, with the capacity to build 150,000 of the unnamed crossovers a year. Toyota Corollas will roll out of the other half.

Before any of that happens, however, there’s a riskier debut coming down the pipe. The Skyactiv-X engine, a (mainly) sparkless gasoline compression ignition engine, arrives sometime next year in the next-generation Mazda 3. Mazda expects significant fuel economy gains from the new mill. Should the engine prove reliable and economical, Mazda will have shown that its devotion to the internal combustion engine wasn’t foolhardy.

It could be enough to cause more than a few greenies think twice about switching to a slow-charging, limited range electric vehicle. Again, Mazda hopes.

With Marumoto heading to the big office, his current job as VP and Americas boss goes to Kiyoshi Fujiwara, the company’s senior managing executive officer and R&D boss. Fujiwara will continue overseeing the R&D file.

[Image: Mazda]