Mazda Ireland MD John Perry accelerates change

Mark Gallivan talks to Mazda Ireland managing director John Perry about plans to take on the Irish electric car market, starting with the new MX-30.

Mazda has always pursued a strategy of doing things its own way. A slaving eschewing of engineering turbochargers into their engines and pursuing normally aspirated units coupled with the last affordable rear-drive, two-seater convertible with the company’s thrilling MX-5.

For outright fun at €31,834, the tiny MX-5 is the finest affordable roadster you can buy. Little surprise then that the Hiroshima headquartered company garners praise amongst indie petrolheads.

“We have a younger generation that demands newer technology and gets bored with purchasing new phones. They will bring a cultural change into how cars are sold”

Mazda’s new model line-up has been quiet of late, save for the all-new Mazda MX-30 fully electric crossover SUV that’s set to duke it out with the Mini Electric and Honda e in the 250km range club. It was the MX-30’s imminent arrival that prompted a catch up with John Perry, Managing Director of Mazda Ireland.

Adapting speedily to changing conditions

Orange Mazda sports car.

Celebrating the 30 year anniversary of the Mazda MX-5

Perry’s motor industry career began in Tedcastles Engineering in Charlotte Quay as importers for Atlas excavators. From there he moved to HB Denis in Richmond Road, then onto Belgard Motors and joining Mazda in 2007 as an aftersales business manager and onwards to Managing Director of Mazda Ireland in 2016.

“Globally, 2020 like every manufacturer was quite challenging. Although we sold 1.4m cars in our outgoing fiscal year, we learnt a lot from the last financial crisis, and are a very nimble business and we can adapt quite quickly to impacts in sales,” says Perry. “In the early stages [of Covid] we cut production from mid-April to mid-May. We did notice from the last lockdown that North America and Australia sales were higher than expected.”

“Our Fiscal Year is from 1 April to 31 March, if you take the third quarter which would be October to December in 2020, we were ahead of our revised forecast in sales and profitability.”

Mazda was aware there may be disruption in the European market based on EU’s CO2 penalties and taxations and took a proactive approach in reducing its manufactured volume. Perry states the focus is to continue 200,000 plus vehicles however this fiscal year target this was revised and reduced to 150,000 units allowing navigation through the period.

This was helped by having codes for left-hand drive cars helping Mazda move cars throughout Europe and get the cars which were already were sold to the customer to maintain revenue.

There has been proactive monitoring of stock and focus of the potential impact of successive lockdowns by Mazda Ireland in 2020.

“In Ireland, our decline in sales was a little above 25pc. We extended incentives to the dealers and extended their new car funding taking a proactive in ensuring dealers were viable and didn’t have a situation on cashflow,” confirms Perry.

Driving excellence

Wine-coloured Mazda SUV.

Next generation Mazda 3

“We take a bottom-up approach for the viability of the brand and the dealers and the expectation is that they have a viable amount of vehicles to sell”

Like competitive brands, Mazda Ireland’s focus has moved away from focusing on market share. During 2020 the company’s market share was approximately 1.4pc with a target to reach 1.9pc increasing sales by 20pc based on a strong SUV range with the launch of CX-30 last year and MX-30 in 2021.

The estimated growth of 30pc in alternative fuels is a segment that Mazda has not offered vehicles to buyers. Perry reiterates the focus on entering this market in this calendar year. “We will now start playing in that [alternative fuels] segment and will lead to growth. We take a bottom-up approach for the viability of the brand and the dealers and the expectation is that they have a viable amount of vehicles to sell.”

Apart from the fully electric MX-30 this calendar year will see facelifts refreshing existing vehicles. “We were keen to launch MX-30, particularly in the European marketplace with the [EU] penalties and the availability of super credits that you get from electrification. There is a future for the ICE engine with a good clean petrol and diesel in seventh-generation vehicles like Mazda 3 and CX-30 with interim product modification with more efficient engines – more CO2 and fuel-efficient.” The Zoom Zoom 2030 sustainability initiative is to reduce carbon emissions by 50pc in nine years from now and 90pc by 2050.

CX-5 gets improved infotainment and with Mazda celebrating 100 years in business in 2020, a centenary version of Mazda 3, CX-30 and Mazda 6 with a new 2.5 litre engine.

Driving electric dreams

2021 is when Mazda properly puts its toe into the electrification pool, it’s 2022 that sees PHEV and Electric across the models giving Mazda loyalists a platform to steer away from traditional ICE engines for the first time.

Mazda like many manufactures have challenges achieving EU’s targets for CO2 reductions but has collaborated with Toyota a few years ago to explore the benefits of mutual technology most recently pooling with for CO2 emissions for credits. We would have a cost but one that is manageable but hedging within our budgets.

“The EU set very ambitious targets and put them upon us very quickly which is very challenging for manufacturers. When it comes to R&D, technology takes time to refine engines as needed. Although we develop our own unique SkyActiv engine technology. The beauty of collaborating with Toyota allows future development in future technologies,” says Perry.

“From a European point of view, we have to ensure we put the vehicles into the markets that you will get the highest volume of sales.”

In 2020 Mazda set a target to 10,000 MX-30 in Europe. This year the sales target rises to 18,000. While MX-30 is the company’s first fully electric vehicle it had already started with the first step in mild-hybrid electrification using regeneration through the brakes and electrics than regenerating the engine as a hybrid. Next year’s PHEV hybrids should see a competitive range with a new SUV vehicle expected in April 2022.

“We have a younger generation that demands newer technology and gets bored with purchasing new phones. They will bring a cultural change into how cars are sold with more leasing agreements with a shorter term with car sharing in cities.” Perry sees more restrictions on people travelling into and out of the cities. “That (car sharing) is an area that will grow.

Moving to car segments, Perry believes the SUV trend is here to stay, and for the next few years. “I believe over the next three to four years SUVs will still be very strong in sales. We (Mazda) have a lightweight strategy with more fuel-efficient engines and the SUV is as efficient as everything else economically and CO2 environmentally friendly. Over the short to medium term, I do believe it will still be the SUV.”

The last question is for Perry himself. Which car, other than a Mazda, would he choose for the weekend?

“For me, it’s the Jaguar Mark 2 (Inspector Morse) car. It’s a symbolism of elegance and luxury. I love the veneer, the steering wheel and the look of the car. It’s one that I always promised myself one day to buy and take it out on the road.”

Interview by Mark Gallivan

Published: 1 March 2021