Despite Mazda being a small mainstream automaker and Infiniti being a luxury brand owned by a juggernaut of a company in Nissan-Renault, the two have a remarkable amount in common–namely, regaining a sense of identity and picking up lost market share or gaining new ground.
Both Infiniti and Mazda are in the process of stockpiling executives to help them achieve their goals. Infiniti has been far more public with its actions, first poaching Johan de Nysschen from Audi to oversee the brand and bring it on par with Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. His latest appointment is Toshihiro Hirai, a longtime powertrain engineer with Nissan who will now oversee global product planning.
Given what is an incredibly ambitious goal to raise Infiniti sales from 170,000 globally last year to 500,000 by 2017, he’ll have his work cut out for him. First up on the docket is the 2014 Infiniti Q50 sedan and the coupe version that is likely to be called Infiniti Q60. Also coming up will be a smaller hatchback model based on the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class chassis and an all-electric car that will share technology with the Nissan Leaf.
Hirai will have to help the brand develop a unique identity, further separating it from its “expensive Nissan” image. Already, styling looks like it’s diverging. Technology will become another key separator, as Infiniti is looking to develop “steer by wire” that has no physical connection between the steering wheel and the steering rack, and it will retain its own rear-wheel-drive platforms for many vehicles.
For Mazda, the brand is already starting to define its image the way it wants to be with “kodo”–which translates to “soul of motion”–defining its styling direction. Now, it needs to become profitable over the long run.
The person tapped to help ensure that is Masamichi Kogai, the new president and CEO of Mazda, who hopes to continue what the outgoing CEO started. After separating from Ford, Mazda has stopped building cars in Michigan, broken ground on a new plant in Mexico, developed its “SkyActiv” technology to be used for reducing weight and making its vehicles more fuel efficient, and begun licensing its technology to share in the costs.
So far, Toyota has signed on for a version of the next-generation, Mexican-built Mazda2, and Fiat’s Alfa Romeo brand will roll out a high-end version of the Mazda Miata that we hope is simply called “Spider” and is marketed with Dustin Hoffman. Both are expected to arrive within the next few years.
Kogai, who has been with the company since 1977, takes over a company that has broken into profitability for the first time in five years when it shared much of its development costs with Ford. That’s despite the fact that it bled money in the U.S. With all of its production currently in Japan, Mazda needs the yen to be trading at 75 per one dollar to be profitable; it’s currently about 99 per dollar, which puts a strain on Mazda to deliver products affordably.
Mazda looks to expand its presence with its engineering expertise as much as its new product lines, which already include the fantastic 2013 Mazda CX-5 and 2014 Mazda6. Expect Mazda to gain a number of new cars as it grows over the next few years, pending it stays on course.