With his boyish face, Jeff Guyton looks a lot younger than his 53 years, but his resume reveals someone with extensive automotive experience culminating in his appointment as the president of Mazda’s North American operations in April 2019.
From its early days in the U.S. market, the Hiroshima-based brand has earned a loyal, even cult-like following for products like the MX-5 Miata, and technology like the rotary engine. But Mazda has long struggled to push out of the niche category when it comes to sales, especially as the parent company this year marks its centennial.
Guyton has scored some successes as Mazda has rolled out new products like the CX-30, the automaker’s sales relatively flat in a market down about 16% for the year to date, while Mazda’s market share has surged to record levels. That earned him numerous kudos, among other things, being named a 2020 All-Star by influential Automotive News. Mazda also has won praise for several programs aimed at honoring first responders in the COVID pandemic battle. This month it announced the winners in its “Heroes” program, 50 individuals who “tirelessly dedicated themselves to their communities throughout 2020.”
Looking forward, Guyton will have still more on his plate, Mazda just launching its first turbo models, getting ready to begin production at the Alabama plant it is building as part of a joint venture with Toyota and, as the executive revealed in this exclusive interview, laying out plans to bring Mazda’s first all-electric model to the U.S. market.
TheDetroitBureau: We’re seeing a lot of automakers, like Ford, GM, Volvo, even Bentley, signaling they’re ramping up their EV programs. So, where are you going?
Guyton: We take a well-to-wheels approach to greenhouse gases and we’re planning to reduce the impact of our fleet 90% by 2050. That includes power generation. It’s difficult to explain to people that even if a vehicle doesn’t have a tailpipe it’s not necessarily carbon neutral if we burn a lot of fossil fuel to create electricity. Of course, over time, that’s shifting but, by 2030, but our goal is to reduce the whole carbon footprint. And, yes, that includes electric vehicles. But in other places where there’s a dependence on fossil fuels for electricity, we’ll have vehicles that are extremely fuel efficient.
We’ve also been involved with Toyota and other partners in Japan on the next-generation electric vehicle architecture so we’re prepared for this shift into electrification. But we’ve never approached this as EVs being the savior.
TDB: So, let’s talk about Mazda’s electrification plans. What do you have coming in the near future in terms of hybrid, plug-in and pure battery-electric vehicles?
Guyton: Recently, we announced that we would be employing the Toyota hybrid system that we’ll be producing in Alabama, (at their new joint venture plant with Toyota), along with other Mazda-originated powertrains. We’ve said it’s a new crossover for the North American market.
Also, we’ve talked about introducing our large platform architecture that will have plug-in hybrid capability, along with other electrification. We haven’t said when, but that’s coming in the not too distant future.
We have launched the MX-30 in Europe, which is our first battery-electric vehicle. And we will be making that product available in the future with a rotary range extender. Any chance of it coming to the U.S.? Yes, it will, though we haven’t talked about the date publicly yet.
TDB: And it will have the (rotary engine) range-extender option for the U.S., like you’re planning in Europe?
Guyton: That’s our plan. For the U.S. market, the range-extender option would be more appropriate.
TDB: How soon before you offer even more electrified options in the U.S.
Guyton: Well, by 2025 I don’t think we’re going to be selling much of anything that doesn’t have electrification onboard. We certainly see the trends everybody else sees.
TDB: The industry was divided over the Trump administration’s plan to eliminate California’s waiver, allowing it to set tougher greenhouse gases than the national policy – something it would use to promote faster EV adoption. Where did Mazda come in on this?
Guyton: We’re a member of the coalition that wanted a national policy. Lots of people paint that as Trump-versus-California. It’s not really the way we saw it. For our business scale, we need a national policy. We weren’t siding with Trump or California. We hope we can come to a place where there is a national standard with improvements in it, year-over-year.
TDB: What does Mazda’s 100th anniversary mean, especially in light of all the news impacting the industry this year? It’s challenging for a company the size of Toyota but has to be especially difficult for one the size of Mazda.
Guyton: It’s been a volatile year and I’m pleased to see we’ve had some records this year. Over the summer we had the best market share Mazda has ever seen in the U.S. We came through the first 11 months selling almost as many as last year over the same period – though I’d like to sell a few more – which is pretty remarkable considering the kind of year it’s been. Our dealers also have had a record return on sales. And the used business has been remarkable. So, we’ve had a great year from a business standpoint.
TDB: Let’s talk about your partnering relationships. Your CEO said, after the alliance with Ford broke up, that Mazda would need more partnerships. How is the relationship with Toyota going?
Guyton: The Toyota relationship is very interesting because it is founded on mutual respect. There’s an equity relationship but cross-holdings of the same dollar amount. From my Mazda perspective we see a company with tremendous resources and capabilities. From Toyota’s perspective they see a much smaller company that’s an amazing competitor given our scale. So the companies have looked for opportunities. They’re not designed to focus on any specific area of the business.
When we look at the United States … and Australia … we see financial services. We see electric vehicle architecture development centered in Japan. We see development of the Alabama plant together. It’s opportunistic rather than some grand plan. It’s essential Mazda keep itself sort of Mazda to contribute that sort scrappy kind … of spirit. We can do a lot with a little. We just can’t do everything.
TDB: I get a sense of Mazda pushing a bit more upmarket than where you’ve traditionally competed. Can you talk about that?
Guyton: With our new range of products and the turbo we’re focused on great design and driving dynamics and you see increasing levels of power we can provide in a fuel-efficient way. That combination, we hope, will be attractive to people buying premium vehicles today. We think there is some magic to be found there. So, we think the introduction of the Mazda3 turbo and the CX-30 turbo will be very promising for the brand.
TDB: Before we wrap up, let me congratulate you for being named to the Automotive News All-Stars.
Guyton: It’s a nice reflection on what the team has been able to do here. We’ve done a lot of things that are creative and maybe different and we’ve had good results. But it’s teamwork.
TDB: Let’s talk about the Heroes program. What was your intent?
Guyton: This isn’t the 2020 anybody expected. It’s the 100th anniversary of our company and 50 years of Mazda in the United States. We imagined it a little differently. If you look at Mazda’s DNA it’s about finding products that brighten peoples’ lives. Normally, we do it through products and technology like the MX-5 or the rotary engine. So, when we heard what people are doing in the pandemic we thought this isn’t how we pictured the 100th anniversary but we saw people trying to brighten people’s lives, and that matches with what we’re trying to do.
TDB: What has been the response?
Guyton: We’ve had nothing but good feedback. Earlier this year we did a program (where) we offered a free oil change and a deep clean to anybody who was a healthcare worker, regardless of what brand vehicle they drove. We had more than 50,000 people come for that in just the course of a few weeks. Healthcare workers are stressed and overwhelmed and we were able to give them a little peace of mind.