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A new beginning for Mazda

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BERJAYA Automotive Philippines CEO Steven Tan, Bermaz Motor International Ltd. company director Francis Lee and Mazda Corp. senior managing executive officer Yuji Nakamine

I’ve always been a fan of the Mazda brand. They were the spunky, left-field Japanese cousins of their richer, more prestigious American kin, Ford. Their model lineup, though not as seemingly impressive, continues to surprise us with their ability and what they can achieve, as compared to what they do not have. An underdog if you will, and with a history and legacy of equally quirky motorsports and sports car involvement (Imagine the Le Mans winning 787B, SA22, FC3S and FD3S RX-7s and you’ll get the idea why I am crazy about Mazdas. Heck, even I sometimes dream of building an ITB-equipped MX-5 roadster!), I am a huge fan of theirs.

True, their road car range, though impressive in its own way, isn’t exactly something to whet the automotive appetites of even the most casual of enthusiasts. But they are very fun to drive, like the soul of sports and race cars past still fill the veins of the Mazda model lineup.

I feel, however, that Mazda hasn’t been able to truly spread its wings locally, playing second fiddle to their cousins from Ford. Not to disrespect the people at Ford but somehow, I always felt that Mazda could do so much more.

Thankfully, it seems my dreams for Mazda have been answered. Last Wednesday, September 12, Mazda signed a distributorship agreement with the Malaysian Berjaya Group, a gigantic conglomerate that includes real estate, education, food, entertainment and gaming as their key business interests, along with automotive interests. In Malaysia, the Berjaya Group took over the Mazda distributorship in 2008, when Mazda vehicle sales were barely 1,000 units per annum (it is now at 6,000 units per annum). Steven Tan, an old face to motoring journalists because of his stint as one of Mazda’s regional executives, will take charge as the new Berjaya Automotive Philippines CEO.

So what can we expect from the take-over of the Mazda distributorship of Berjaya?

Executives from Berjaya Group and Berjaya Automotive Philippines were coy, simply saying that the road map for Mazda in the Philippines has been set, and that come January 1, 2013, the transition will be seamless and imperceptible to the public, media and suppliers alike. I do hope, however, that this also means changes like:

Better, faster and more efficient Mazda servicing. Some customers I’ve had the pleasure of talking to are very happy with their Mazdas, but wish that after-sales servicing could

LEE shakes hands with Nakamine after the signing ceremony as Tan, Trade Undersecretary Cristino Panlilio and Mazda Motor Corp. global marketing and sales division deputy general manager Hidesuke Takesue look on.

be better, cheaper and faster. It is not that the current Mazda after-sales servicing is slow and inefficient, but it seems that Mazda has been slow to capitalize in the booming market. There is a deficit of dealerships and service centers for the Mazda brand and, particularly for owners who have older-model Mazdas or pre-Ford Group Philippines/Mazda era, there is a lack of support for their platforms and models. Hopefully, Berjaya Automotive Philippines can address this.

More dealerships. This ties in with my first wish for Mazda. But more than servicing, Mazda needs more dealerships in and around the Philippines to really grow its brand, increase vehicle sales and help stem the bad reputation it has. If there are more readily available dealerships and service centers, more people will buy Mazdas, and these people will have better after-sales service, and with it, improve the resale value and image of Mazda, oft misaligned as a troublesome, fuel-thirsty and unreliable vehicle.

More cars. Hopefully Berjaya Philippines can bring in more Mazda vehicles into the country. The Mazda 5 MPV/minivan is the perfect example of a car most Filipinos can relate to as it is a highly useful vehicle fit for the typical modern Filipino extended family, and it looks handsome too! The Miata MX-5 is also something that Mazda seems to be ignoring. Sales of the Hyundai Genesis and Toyota 86, along with the Subaru BRZ going to market in the next two to three months should be an indicator that the Philippine market is ready for an affordable sportscar. Bring in a  base-model, stripped out MX5 with 6-on the floor and a rorty engine and perhaps we can see these cars duking it out on the track very soon, the same way the Mazda brand should be duking it out with the likes of Toyota, Honda, Mitsubishi and Hyundai on the local motoring market. I wish Mr. Tan and the rest of those in charge of the Mazda brand in the Philippines good luck.


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