Mazda New Zealand is counting down the weeks to when it can drive its BT-50 ute out from under the shadow of the Ford Ranger.
The two utes are essentially the same – same chassis and powertrain, and built at the same assembly plant in Thailand.
The pair are the last remnants of the time Ford was a major shareholder of Mazda. The Ranger was conceived and designed by Ford in Australia, and Mazda was responsible for creating its own body styling and such things as suspension settings.
At that time Ford held a 35 per cent stake in Mazda, and when it sold the shareholding in 2010 the Japanese company was left free to do its own thing – which it did with gusto, getting into developing all the SkyActiv technologies that have resulted in a popular fleet of SUVs, sedans and hatchbacks.
But the BT-50 hasn’t been a part of all that. As a result it has been forced to live in the shadow of the Ranger, which is New Zealand’s biggest-selling new vehicle with sales seven times bigger than the Mazda.
Last year 9420 Rangers were sold, way ahead of 2218 BT-50s. And this year to the end of October there have been 8306 Rangers and 1802 BT-50s sold.
A major reason for this massive difference in sales, considering the two utes are essentially the same, is because of Mazda’s 24 New Zealand dealerships, 18 of them are also Ford dealerships.
No surprises then that as dealership staff work hard to keep the Ranger ahead of arch-rival Toyota Hilux in what is a very close sales race, the BT-50 has been left to assume a more passive marketing role and pick up the sales pieces.
But all that is about to change – because the Ford-Mazda ute partnership is ending.
Last year it was announced that the next-generation BT-50 will be developed off the next-generation Isuzu D-Max and built at an Isuzu plant in Thailand. This new arrangement is being officially described as a supply agreement, but Mazda has already enjoyed considerable input into the design of its version of the new ute.
Mazda New Zealand’s general manager of sales and marketing Glenn Harris has seen the truck, which will be launched in New Zealand in mid-2020, and he likes what he has seen.
“It’s slightly smaller than the current BT-50, but all the useable dimensions, payload and vehicle dynamics will be the same,” he says, adding that the ute will be powered by an Isuzu four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine.
Importantly, development of the new BT-50 in conjunction with a completely different brand, will allow Mazda New Zealand to completely re-set its retail thinking for the ute.
“We can start everything afresh. We’re looking forward to the next relationship with Isuzu, which is a company that sits in about the same sales position with its D-Max as we do with our ute. And we don’t share dealers.”
Harris says Mazda is enjoying some great highs with sales of its SUVs, but also experiencing great lows with sales of the BT-50 despite the fact it competes in what is now a very big new vehicle segment – 4×4 utes enjoys a 15 per cent share of the total new vehicle sales market, and 4×2 utes 9 per cent.
“With the current BT-50 we’ve been our own worst enemy regarding sales. But now we’re looking forward to a much more competitive product – we will be able to really stretch our wings.”