When Ford Motor Co. cut its stake in Mazda Motor Corp. to 13 percent from 33.4 percent in November, several key Ford Motor Co. executives on loan to Mazda had to make a decision: stick with Mazda or go back to Ford. One of Mazda's coups was hanging on to Ford lifer Jim O'Sullivan, who had been CEO of Mazda North American Operations since 2003.
O'Sullivan has been a key figure in the revival of Mazda's fortunes in North America, overseeing sales growth and the controlled reduction of the dealer body to emphasize exclusive showrooms.
O'Sullivan, 56, spoke last week with West Coast Editor Mark Rechtin.
What is your assessment of the first four months of 2009, and what will the rest of the year bring the industry?
The way business was 12 months ago won't come back. The industry will come back, but there will be fewer dealers with more throughput. We are seeing more conservative manufacturing planning. I am thinking we'll see a 10 million SAAR [seasonally adjusted annual rate] for the whole year, with things picking up in the second half. As we get into 2010, the Japanese brands will see less incentive spending than we see now. We are going to clean everything up before we get to September.
And for Mazda?
We ended the fiscal year [March 31] cash positive. We're putting incentives on to get port stocks down and get production down. Now we are seeing the pendulum swinging the other way. We've kept our head down. We have gone through a restructuring here, cutting about 120 positions, but we started doing that in the fall. … Read more