Mazda tying up with Fiat, plans new roadster


Staff Writer

Mazda Motor Corp. said Wednesday it will form a business tieup with Italy’s Fiat, a step that could help it climb out of the red ink it has been mired in since 2008 amid harsh global competition.

The automaker has been seeking a new partner as it reduces its ties with troubled Ford Motor Co., which was once its largest shareholder, while Fiat has reportedly sought additional business partners outside of Europe after buying struggling Chrysler LLC last year.

Under the planned cooperation, Mazda will develop and manufacture a new Mazda Roadster two-seater sports car, called the Mazda MX-5 abroad, for its own and Fiat’s Alfa Romeo brand, base on Mazda’s platform.

Both vehicles will be manufactured at Mazda’s main factory in Hiroshima Prefecture starting in 2015.

The automakers plan to sign the final agreement in the second half of this year. They have also agreed to discuss further opportunities for cooperation in Europe.

“Establishing technology and product development alliances is one of Mazda’s corporate objectives and this announcement with Fiat is an important first step in that direction,” Mazda President CEO Takashi Yamanouchi said in a statement.

Experts say the cooperation could lead to a broader alliance in the future, under which Mazda would increase sales by supplying its fuel-efficient engines to Fiat, as the engines can better address environment regulations in Europe. This would limit Fiat’s development costs.

“Today’s announcement itself has a limited impact. . . . But the companies will probably look into further cooperation in the future,” said an auto sector analyst at a European securities house who asked not to be named.

Recent fierce competition and the yen’s strength has forced Mazda, which produces most of its cars at home, to log its fourth straight annual group net loss in the business year that ended in March.

Ford, which had held a one-third stake in Mazda, now holds just 2.1 percent.

Automakers around the world are forming alliances, particularly in terms of emerging markets.

Recent examples include reports that General Motors Co. has approached Isuzu Motors Ltd. about entering talks on a capital tieup to produce commercial vehicles for emerging economies.