At the Brussels Motor Show, the Japanese manufacturer Mazda had a world premiere, the MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV, a range extender version of their MX-30 BEV. On the sidelines, we talked to Martijn ten Brink, President and CEO of Mazda Europe. This relatively small car manufacturer has its own way of doing things.
For Mazda, its European operations are not of utmost importance if one talks volume. A good sales year for the company in Europe means 200 000 cars, not even one-sixth of global sales (around 1,28 million in 2021). “But Mazda Europe is profitable,” says ten Brink, “and our profit contribution is important and much appreciated in our Hiroshima headquarters in Japan.”
“The EU is a very competitive market, and we’ve always seen it as an essential learning experience. Our R&D center in Oberursel may be expensive, but it’s worth every penny because we want to try out everything here, and that’s a necessary exercise to stay competitive all the way. It also teaches us that we must be prudent; we are too small to go fully for a one and only option.”
One big family
While ten Brink is not unhappy with what Mazda has achieved in Europe in the past years, he clearly wants to introduce a major change. “We are moving to ‘One Mazda Europe’,” ten Brink explains. “Mazda Europe has to become one big family, a pan-European group of collaborators who can move freely (also virtually) throughout Europe in our new unified structure.”
Is Mazda then following the path of bigger competitors and opting for a so-called agency model of car distribution? “Not at all,” replies ten Brink. “We want our dealers to change with us, but we will do it together. The agency model sees the control over distribution entirely in the hands of the manufacturer, we still want to do it together with our dealers, with our own business models.”
“What we want our dealers to do is to automize work that is repetitive and boring and that they focalize on the most important person, the client. He has to work on better, more efficient, and closer contact with his customer, as well digitally as on the human side. That implies a good relationship, clear agreements, and a competitive attitude.”
Until now, Mazda hasn’t been a frontrunner regarding electrification. the Mazda MX-30 is the only BEV on offer for the moment, and it now has two PHEVs in its portfolio. But there is more, Mazda just finished the development of a new family of six-in-line internal combustion engines and remains technically open to a lot of solutions, even burning e-fuels or hydrogen if necessary.
“I know we are being pushed into one direction by the politicians,” replies ten Brink, “but as a small player, we have to stay very prudent. That’s why we don’t go head-on for BEVs, we like to be a multi-solution company and keep as many things open as possible. We feel more comfortable when we don’t make radical decisions.”
“Does that mean that we’re not taking risks? On the contrary, we try to be a unique Japanese brand focused on emotion and driving pleasure. That makes us interesting for some and less interesting for others. But the last thing we will do is tell people what they need. Either they like us, or they choose somebody else. We will not try to change them, we will try to persuade them of the values we cherish.