IN­SIGHT

Total MX-5 - - CONTENTS -

Mazda UK’S MD re­veals why the MX-5 re­mains a vi­tal el­e­ment of the whole Mazda lineup

Ac­tu­ally, I was a mo­tor­bike guy and the MX-5 was the first car that I drove that gave me the same sense of free­dom, of lib­er­a­tion, that I got from the bikes Jeremy Thom­son, Man­ag­ing Direc­tor, Mazda Mo­tors UK

We’re all over­joyed that there’s now a more pow­er­ful 2.0-litre mk4, but nearly 30 years from the launch of the orig­i­nal, how does the MX-5 fit into the mod­ern Mazda world? Jeremy Thom­son, man­ag­ing direc­tor of Mazda UK, reck­ons this star act is shin­ing as brightly as ever. Words and pic­tures: Brett Fraser

GREAT TO­DAY but gone to­mor­row: we’ve all seen it hap­pen. And some­times when you’re look­ing great, ac­tu­ally you aren’t do­ing as well as ap­pear­ances sug­gest. So while we’ve all got the hots for the new 181bhp 2.0-litre mk4 be­cause we’re MX-5 en­thu­si­asts, does a small two-seater sports car still have any rel­e­vance in the mod­ern mar­ket within which Mazda trades? And how does the MX-5 con­tribute – as­sum­ing it still does – to Mazda’s po­si­tion­ing and rep­u­ta­tion in the UK.

The man who can an­swer that is Mazda Mo­tors UK’S man­ag­ing direc­tor, Jeremy Thom­son.

Un­like some se­nior ex­ec­u­tives, Thom­son is a car guy. ‘Ac­tu­ally, I started off as a mo­tor­bike guy,’ he con­fesses, ‘and the MX-5 was the first car that I drove that gave me the same sense of free­dom, of lib­er­a­tion, that I got from the bikes. So when I joined Mazda in 2001 after 12 years at Ford, my first com­pany car was an MX-5. And this model has been one of the joys of the job in the in­ter­ven­ing 17 years.

‘I’ve been on many dif­fer­ent launches for MX-5S in dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions and roads over the years, and where it’s been pos­si­ble I’ve ar­ranged for us to bring along an orig­i­nal car – it helps peo­ple un­der­stand the core DNA be­hind not only the MX-5, but ev­ery Mazda model. It’s what can turn a dis­in­ter­ested driver into some­one who ac­tu­ally re­ally en­joys be­ing be­hind the wheel of their car.

‘Since its launch back in 1989, we’ve sold about 130,000 MX-5S in the UK, which rep­re­sents roughly 12% of global sales and 50% of Euro­pean sales. Im­pres­sive num­bers for a sports car, but not a huge seller in the grand scheme of things. Yet cru­cially, the MX-5 is how peo­ple know Mazda, even if it’s not the Mazda they end up buy­ing. When we run the MX-5 tele­vi­sion com­mer­cial it has a pos­i­tive im­pact on all mod­els, it acts as an holis­tic mes­sage for the whole brand. Which is why we ad­ver­tise the MX-5 more than its sales vol­ume would ap­pear to jus­tify.

‘The car is part of Mazda’s cul­tural her­itage, but it’s also very much about the here and now, how Mazda val­ues the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s such a vi­tal part of our brand iden­tity. And I’m so glad we’ve brought it with us, be­cause in to­day’s mar­ket I’m not sure such a car would be pos­si­ble if you were start­ing from scratch. Mazda is such a joy­ful brand to work for, be­cause of the MX-5.’

We wouldn’t ar­gue with that, but MX-5 sales in the past were much higher than they are now: should we be wor­ried?

Thom­son urges us to con­sider the long-term pic­ture. ‘True, at its peak the MX-5 was sell­ing 8–9000 units an­nu­ally in the UK, but I be­lieve they were ex­tra­or­di­nary times and that sales lev­els are now down to a more nat­u­ral run rate.

‘But that’s not to say we don’t have con­cerns from time to time,’ he laughs. ‘The MX-5 is, as you might imag­ine, a very sea­sonal pur­chase, and early in 2018, after that long, wet win­ter, we were about 800 units down on our in­ter­nal tar­gets. But then the sun came out and we caught up again. To date [un­til the start of Septem­ber] this year we’ve al­ready sold 3200 units and Septem­ber is tra­di­tion­ally a very suc­cess­ful month in our deal­er­ships. And, of course, we now have the more pow­er­ful 2.0-litre model as an added at­trac­tion.’

Talk­ing of which, Thom­son is very up­beat about the 181bhp ver­sion’s ar­rival. ‘The ex­tra power of the re­vised car isn’t all about sim­ply go­ing faster, it un­locks an­other facet of the mk4’s char­ac­ter. Mazda en­gi­neers have al­ways said that they de­signed this gen­er­a­tion of the MX-5 around the high­revving na­ture of the 1.5-litre engine – and the 1.5 cur­rently takes about 65% of mk4 sales – so now the 2.0 has that char­ac­ter­is­tic com­bined with ex­tra per­for­mance, it will have even greater ap­peal to en­thu­si­ast drivers.’

Ac­cord­ing to Thom­son, the MX-5 is a model that Mazda can’t af­ford to let go, or to mess up, even if it were to sell half the global vol­ume it does cur­rently. ‘The chal­lenge for the fu­ture,’ he reck­ons, ‘is how to re­tain the driv­ing dy­nam­ics and plea­sure, while meet­ing new ex­pec­ta­tions for fuel econ­omy and emis­sions. Still, Mazda en­gi­neers do love a chal­lenge…’

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