'PRODUCT-LED GROWTH' PERIOD

Mazda chief sees bright future

by Setsuko Kamiya

The next two years at Mazda Motor Corp. will be a period of “product-led growth,” new company President and CEO Lewis Booth said Thursday.

Mazda, Japan’s fifth-largest automaker, released a new model in May, after going more than a year without any new products. Booth, 53, was officially appointed as Mazda’s fourth president from Ford Motor Co. earlier this week. Ford holds a 33.4 percent stake in Mazda.

“We’ve had a tough period where we had no products for 18 months and had to experience a painful restructuring,” Booth said “But now, we are emerging from the tough times with new products, and I feel comfortable to say we are into the growth period.”

Since November 2000, Mazda has been following a midterm business plan that has included closing down an assembly plant, reducing the number of group employees, improving the firm’s financial conditions and launching a series of global brand campaigns.

In late May, Mazda released the midsize Atenza, which is enjoying strong orders from the Japanese and European markets, according to Booth.

The Demio, a compact car, is scheduled to hit the market in August. The 1.3-liter Demio will be up against Honda Motor Co.’s Fit, Nissan Motor Co.’s March and Toyota Motor Corp.’s ist, all of which have been among this year’s top sellers on the domestic market.

“This is a very tough but a hugely important segment in the Japanese market,” he said. “In fact it’s the only segment showing any signs of light.”

Booth, a native of Britain, joined Ford as a financial analysis coordinator in 1978 and has since served at a number of Ford’s global operations, including in the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States. He joined Mazda as a senior adviser in March.

In China, where automakers are competing to increase their presence, Mazda is producing the Premacy and an older version of the Familia car at Faw Hainan Motor Co. Booth said Mazda will begin production its new generation Familia at the Hainan plant later this summer.

Mazda will continue looking for opportunities in car manufacturing and components purchasing in China, Booth said, noting that his company is also investigating with Ford areas of mutual interest in the Chinese market.

Booth said it will take some time before the benefits of doing business in China outweigh the initial expense of setting up a production base there.

“I think it’s important to develop business propositions in China that are attractive both in the near term as well as the long term, particularly for a company like Mazda, which is relatively small and has relatively limited resources,” he said.

Booth said the relationship between Mazda and Ford is profound. “Through the personnel exchanges between Mazda and Ford, we teach each other how to do things and build on each other’s strengths,” he said.

Mazda employees show great dedication and passion in designing, building and selling the company’s products, he said.

“This is a competitive business with very strong competitors.” he said. “My challenge is to get great work and great results out of the team at Mazda.”