Disclosure: I wrote this piece for the Web site of the NPR radio show Car Talk (yes, Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers) last week, in response to this question:

FOMOCO has long been pumping money into Mazda and owns 
40% of the company. Mazda [manufactures] some of its 
cars in Michigan along with Ford. Why aren't people 
buying Mazdas?

Being the generous (not to say "garrulous") soul I am, I simply had to respond. This is slightly shorter than the original, and a few hyperlinks have been tacked on, but the sense of it is intact.

Ford owns 33.4% of Mazda, enough under Japanese corporate law to put the blue-oval guys in the driver's seat. (Renault owns a similar percentage of Nissan.)

The Ford influence has not always been a salutary one. Starting in '94, Ford's CD4E transmission was bolted into the four-cylinder 626, and it proved to be temperamental and prone to early failure. Ford has since revised the transmission, but I have no doubt that the rash of failures (and Mazda's own G4A-EL tranny, in the six-cylinder cars, isn't what anyone would call bulletproof either) has cost Mazda a lot of repeat sales. The sticks are much better, but how many people contemplating a "family sedan" (a term of opprobrium almost as hateful as "minivan" in some circles) even consider a manual transmission?

Much is made of Mazda's advertising, which falls somewhere on the continuum between inept and nonexistent. The new "Zoom Zoom" campaign for the Tribute just reeks of Peter Pan, and not a Wendy in sight, either. The 626 has no image at all; the Protegé is pitched to Generation X, which finds it eminently resistible. Of course, when you make only four cars for this market and three of them are sedans, people are going to question that "passion for the road" business, to quote an earlier dead Mazda campaign. I'd buy another 626, yes; but I'd be more enthusiastic about a 626-based coupe that wasn't so anxious to be all things to all potential buyers (cf. Honda Accord Acura CL). Not that I expect Mazda (or Ford) to pay much attention to me.

The Vent

4 July 2000

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 Copyright © 2000 by Charles G. Hill