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Small Mazda's Geneva debut

Here soon: The production version of the MX Sport Runabout will be on sale in Australia before the end of 2002.

Mazda boss promises top-notch driving dynamics from 121 replacement

20 Feb 2002

MAZDA will take the next public step in its recovery plan when it whips the covers off the thinly disguised replacement for the 121 small car at the Geneva show early in March.

Although described as a "concept", the MX Sport Runabout shares enough with the production item for Mazda Motor Corporation president Mark Fields to describe the two as "very close".

He confirmed it would go on sale in Japan in late summer and would be launched here in November or December. That follows on from the Mazda6 which goes on sale here in August/September, while next year the exciting RX-8 sportscar and 323 small-car replacement are launched.

Mr Fields, in Melbourne late last week for a review of Mazda Australia performance and operations, told a press briefing the new small car would not be capable of competing with the cheapest segment entrants on price, instead citing three attributes that would attract buyers.

"One is the driving dynamics. When you drive that vehicle versus the facing competition you will see a marked difference and we think there is a certain section of the population that will appeal to, even in that segment," he said.

"Second is the level of craftsmanship in the interior. We have spent a tremendous amount of time on interior craftsmanship and as you see from the Mazda6 and the next generation B (121 replacement) and C (323 replacement) car, you'll see that coming out very, very clearly.

"And the third reason is the cargo flexibility. The (current) 121's reason for its initial success was the cargo capability and flexibility, and we made damn sure when we were developing the next generation vehicle we didn't compromise that." The small car - which logic suggests should be called the Mazda1 - is a five-door hatchback (there is not expected to be a three-door) and shares the new family face pioneered by the Mazda6, a five-point grille and distinctive light cluster.

The concept is fitted with a new generation 1.5-litre S-VT (variable valve timing) four-cylinder engine mated to a four-speed automatic transmission (a five-speed manual will be standard).

Mazda says the new generation car improves its dynamics courtesy of a more rigid body and a new suspension design. Vital measurements are 3900mm length, 1720mm width, 1550mm height and a 2500mm wheelbase.

Mazda says the wheelbase - which is 130mm longer than the Toyota Echo, 60mm longer than the Hyundai Accent and 9mm longer than the Holden Barina - is the key to ensuring comfortable accommodation for four adults.

It also contributes to its ability to carry substantial loads such as two complete mountain bikes, along with a non-protruding suspension tower design and a one-touch rear seat double folding function, as seen on Mazda6.

Mazda Australia is currently intending to take both 1.3 and 1.5-litre versions of the new car, although managing director Malcolm Gough admitted that could change before launch time.

"It will depend on how we position ourselves in the marketplace," he said.

"It's not going to be a $14,990 car, but nor is the current car. We'd like to stay about where are now ($16,285 start-point for 1.3-litre manual) and at the moment we're not far out of that ballpark." Mr Gough forecast a sales volume of between 4500 and 5000 in the first full year on sale. In its final full year on sale, the current 121 managed 3107 sales in 2001, compared to 3844 in 2000.

The Mazda6 family will be completed at the Geneva show when the station wagon version - called Sport Wagon - is shown in public for the first time. The wagon will go on sale in Australia in August alongside the sedan and five-door hatchback. All three will be powered by the new MZR 2.3-litre, four-cylinder engine.

* MAZDA will make a decision in the next four months whether it will proceed with the youth-oriented five-door Secret Hideout concept first shown in Tokyo last year. "We are very hopeful, but we have not made an official approval yet - we are working through the financials right now," Mr Fields said.

* THE Australian-developed MX-5 SP turbo has no prospect of international sale, Mr Fields said, despite some interest being expressed by Mazda affiliates in the US and Europe. Mazda Australia has built a limited run of 100 SPs for sale.

* MR Fields confirmed the next generation Mazda 323 - due late in 2003 - and Ford Laser would not be the virtual identical twins the current cars are - even if they share commonplatforms and architecture. "We aren't going back to the days of badge engineering," he said.

* MAZDA Australia announced a $24.658 million pre-tax profit for the financial year ending December, 2001. The result was based on a total turnover of $883 million and record retail sales of 34,126 in 2001. This year, Mazda is forecasting a pre-tax profit of $18.8 million on a turnover of $927 million and 37,000 sales. Mazda Australia managing director Malcolm Gough forecast a total new vehicle market of 790,000 in 2002.

The motor show season is coming. For an in-depth wrap-up of the Melbourne and Geneva shows next month subscribe to automotive e-news now. Just go to www.mellor.net and follow the e-news prompts.

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