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IT SEEMS man­u­fac­tur­ers of one-tonne utes are swap­ping part­ners as if on a hokey re­al­ity TV show. The lat­est to throw its keys in the bowl is Mazda, who ends its rocky re­la­tion­ship with Ford by an­nounc­ing it will partner with Isuzu for its next-gen­er­a­tion BT-50.

The pre­de­ces­sor to Mazda’s BT-50 was the B-se­ries ute, which was shared with Ford from the mid-1970s, as Ford had a heavy fi­nan­cial in­ter­est in the Ja­panese com­pany. The ute was de­signed and built by Mazda, but it was sold as the Ford Courier or Ranger de­pend­ing on the year and mar­ket – a wagon ver­sion of the Mazda ute was even badged the Ford Ever­est in some mar­kets.

That all changed in 2011 when the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of Ford and Mazda utes ar­rived. Co-de­vel­oped be­tween the two brands, Ford Aus­tralia took the lead to build a big­ger and brawnier truck that has proven a suc­cess. But the suc­cess of the Ford Ranger hasn’t been re­flected in the Mazda BT-50, with its po­lar­is­ing style the rea­son many buy­ers pre­fer the more truck-like Ranger.

When the facelifted ver­sions of the Ford Ranger and the BT-50 ar­rived in 2015, the Ford ben­e­fit­ted from many more up­dates than the Mazda and ru­mours started that the Ja­panese partner wasn’t happy in this cou­pling. Some said Mazda wasn’t com­fort­able with the big­ger style and en­gine of the Ford prod­uct, say­ing the rel­a­tively large 3.2-litre five-cylin­der Ford en­gine didn’t gel with Mazda’s aim of pro­duc­ing smaller, more ef­fi­cient pow­er­trains.

An agree­ment signed be­tween Mazda and Toy­ota last year had many pun­dits tip­ping a Hilux-based ute for the next-gen BT, but that has been dis­pelled with the re­cent an­nounce­ment of a part­ner­ship with Isuzu.

Isuzu’s side of the fam­ily tree mim­ics Mazda’s in some ways. Isuzu part­nered with an­other Amer­i­can au­to­mo­tive gi­ant Gen­eral Mo­tors and for many years GM utes, such as the Chevy Luv and the Holden Rodeocum-colorado, were re­badged ver­sions of the Ja­pane­se­made Isuzu utes – just like Ford sold re­badged Maz­das.

When the cur­rent-gen Holden Colorado (RG) and Isuzu D-max ar­rived, they were co-de­vel­oped prod­ucts yet fea­tured in­di­vid­ual pow­er­trains and be­spoke styling that dif­fer­en­ti­ated them much more than in the past. They’re even built

A pair of Isuzu-de­vel­oped utes pow­ered by the lat­est Mazda pow­er­trains could be a win­ner for both brands

in sep­a­rate GM and Isuzu plants in Thai­land.

As the Ja­panese brands fell out of favour with the US gi­ants, they needed new part­ners to main­tain their strong stand­ing in the seg­ment and the Maz­daisuzu col­lab­o­ra­tion could be one made in heaven.

Mazda is a pas­sen­ger car spe­cial­ist that is de­vel­op­ing lead­ing-edge pow­er­trains to take the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine on­wards and up. While Isuzu has a strong truck her­itage (its light com­mer­cial ute arm trades on that), but it can’t sur­vive on its own.

Isuzu’s own 3.0-litre diesel en­gine is get­ting long in the tooth and, even though it re­mains a strong per­former, it needs se­ri­ous up­dates or re­plac­ing to keep up with global emis­sion reg­u­la­tions.

A pair of Isuzu-de­vel­oped utes – and pos­si­bly a three­row wagon – pow­ered by the lat­est Mazda pow­er­trains could be a win­ner for both brands. That ar­range­ment is purely spec­u­la­tion at the mo­ment, with the only con­firmed fact be­ing that Mazda will be pur­chas­ing its next-gen­er­a­tion pick-up from Isuzu. How­ever, it’s one that makes sense for both brands.

The cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of Isuzu D-max is close to six years old, while the BT-50 is com­ing up on seven years old. That sug­gests the nex­tgen­er­a­tion Isuzu is due to come out in the next four to five years and you can bet Mazda will be work­ing over­time to have its new BT ver­sion ready around the same time.

The cur­rent BT-50 shares much with the Ford Ranger, though that’s set to change.

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