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…’