Ford’s decision to poach Mazda’s European marketing chief Steve Cootes to run Land Rover in Europe (MW last week) is further evidence of the respect the car giant has for the management team that has masterminded the turnaround of its Japanese affiliate in recent years.
Cootes, who is joining Land Rover as director of European operations, is the latest in a long line of Mazda executives to move to Ford, which owns 35% of the company – a controlling stake in Japanese law. Mazda’s former global marketing boss Stephen Odell, one of the men responsible for the marque’s high-profile “zoom-zoom” advertising campaign by JWT, is now vice-president of marketing, sales and service at Ford of Europe. And former Mazda global chief executive Mark Fields was parachuted in to take charge of Ford’s troubled North American operations last year.
Mazda’s UK management team was reshuffled last year following the promotion of Philip Waring to vice-president of sales for Mazda Motors Europe. Sales director Rob Lindley, a former Ford executive who joined Mazda in 2001 as marketing director, became managing director. Jeremy Thomson, another of the original management team from 2001 when Mazda took control of its UK import operations, took over as sales director while Mark Cameron became marketing director.
Mazda’s global sales jumped from 858,688 in 2004 to 897,749 in 2005 and are predicted to reach 1.25 million this year. The UK division has also performed well, with record monthly sales of 10,100 in March this year, and overall sales up 10% to the end of May, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
Lindley attributes the sales increase to Mazda’s burgeoning range. In August 2005 the company launched the Mazda5 and in November unveiled the third-generation MX-5, its much-loved sports car. But Lindley says its best seller this year has been the Mazda6 range, including a high-performance model introduced in January called the Mazda6 MPS (Mazda Performance Series).
Former Toyota GB commercial director Mike Moran says Mazda used to be synonymous with the MX-5 but adds: “It has performed a clever trick. It’s still got a great sports car in the MX-5 and has added to that with the RX8. But in the meantime its mainstream models have got broader appeal and it has made inroads into the fleet market with the Mazda6.
“What lets it down is the advertising. When I think about Mazda now I think ‘great cars, crap advertising’. Its success is product- not marketing-led but it’s a genuine success story.”
Mazda claims the modified “zoom-zoom” strapline is the most recognised slogan of any car brand in the UK other than Audi’s Vorsprung durch Technik. Lindley adds: “The fact that everyone talks about the campaign illustrates that it is doing its core job of creating awareness and building familiarity of the Mazda brand.”
Mazda is giving the MX-5 its most significant makeover to date in the form of a folding metal roof. The retractable hardtop will be unveiled at this month’s British Motor Show and is to go on sale at the end of the year.
Mazda’s sports cars are at the heart of its brand but by branching out into the mainstream market with the Mazda2, 3, 5 and 6, the marque is now one of the few success stories in Ford’s vast empire. If the momentum is maintained, it would be no surprise to see Ford poach from the marketing department again in the near future.