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Old 01-31-2005, 06:15   #1 (permalink)
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US:Mazda says it will increase efforts to fine tune vehicles to U.S. preferences

Mazda says it will increase efforts to fine tune vehicles to U.S. preferences

MARK RECHTIN | Automotive News

LOS ANGELES -- Despite 35 years of selling cars in the United States, Mazda Motor Corp. still has problems giving Americans what they want.

Mazda has designed its vehicles mostly with the similar Japan and Europe in mind. For example, Americans prefer bump absorption to a firmer, responsive ride.

To battle this problem, Mazda North American Operations restructured its development process to get vehicles in line with U.S. sensibilities.

The parent company appointed global r&d Vice President Shiro Yoshioka -- who oversaw the Miata, RX-8 and Mazda6 programs -- to research ways to make Mazdas more palatable to Americans. Robert Davis, senior vice president of marketing and product development at Mazda North American Operations, was relieved of U.S. marketing oversight to concentrate solely on product and quality.

Starting early

John Parker, executive vice president of Mazda Motor, says the U.S. product development group has been too far upstream to make major r&d contributions.

"We haven't had a deep understanding of North American consumers. Now we're looking at feature content, driving dynamics, how to set up the transmission for North American driving circumstances," Parker says.

Being out of touch with the United States seems like a rookie mistake for a company that splits its 800,000 global sales evenly among Japan, Europe and North America.

To be fair, Mazda developed much of its current product line when the company was under financial duress. That meant Mazda funneled r&d spending into making the Mazda3 and Mazda6 global cars, without looking at regional differences.

Mazda is only now embracing the idea that there are major differences in vehicle dynamics among markets, says Joe Bakaj, Mazda Motor senior managing executive officer for r&d.

Americans want less shift shock from automatic transmissions, even if it sacrifices power. They want less lane drift, even if that makes for a loose on-center feel from the steering wheel.

"The American driver doesn't want to float down the road, but he does want isolation from hard shocks from impact strips or rough tarmac," Bakaj says.

U.S. preferences

Some of the other dislikes include:

>>> Seat backs and cushions are too small for many Americans.
>>> Cupholders are too small for Big Gulps and Starbucks grandes.
>>> Climate control systems can't handle cold winters and hot summers.
>>> Mazda has been late to the party with telematics connections for iPod, Bluetooth, satellite radio and navigation systems.

Then there are problems with basic vehicle layout. The gearshift on the Tribute's steering column interferes with access to radio controls. While Japanese drivers like the MPV's windshield wiper controls on a single stalk, Americans like their rear-window wiper controls to be separate.

Bakaj said these changes would require technical measurements well beyond the scope of "seat-of-the-pants engineering."

Mazda's U.S. engineers will get assistance from parent Ford Motor Co. test centers in Michigan and Arizona.
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