Next BT-50 to spin off Isuzu-GM project

Speculation about Mazda’s next ute partner has ended – it’s a brand already in marriage with another big player.


FROM twins to triplets – that seems to be a result of Mazda’s determination to base the replacement for the current BT-50 on a ute that is also already promised as Holden co-share.

Whereas the current Mazda ute, right, is a close relation to the Ford Ranger – with the same chassis, engines but different specifications and body stylings – the next one will be built by fellow Japanese manufacturer Isuzu.

This deal, announced today by Mazda New Zealand, raises potential that in next-generation format, the Mazda, D-Max and Holden Colorado will all have shared DNA.

That’s because this agreement, reached this week, follows an earlier deal between General Motors and Isuzu from late-2014 confirming that they would co-develop the next-generation D-Max and Colorado.

However, these wheels will turn slowly. While the current Colorado has been around since 2012, it is just only now about to engage in its major facelift – this will be seen by Kiwis in September (we've pictured the new look in its Chevrolet guise). The D-Max is potentially also due another refresh before retirement.

Given this, it is highly possible that the next generation Holden and Isuzu vehicles will not show until 2019, and perhaps the Mazda will be behind them.

Mazda New Zealand marketing services manager Maria Tsao was unable to say when the new model will arrive, but attested that the current BT-50 will continue in our market until that introduction transpires.

“At this stage we have no further information as to when the collaboration with Isuzu will commence or any product specifics such as engines, drivetrains except that they will not be Ford based.”

Conceivably, because Mazda’s agreement is with Isuzu rather than with General Motors, the Japanese brands will share an Isuzu engine.

In the current iteration, that would mean a significant drop in power and torque. The 147kW/470Nm five-cylinder 3.2-litre turbodiesel that Ford supplies to Mazda stands, at least until the arrival of the 165kW/550Nm V6 Volkswagen Tiguan, as the most powerful unit in ute-dom.

The next gruntiest is the Holden’s GM-supplied Duramax four-cylinder, which makes 147kW and 440Nm (manual) and 500Nm (auto). Isuzu does not get access to Duramax engine so has instead settled for an update of its evergreen four-cylinder turbodiesel carried from an earlier-generation model. This creates 130kW and 380Nm.

It is understood that the Mazda will have its own look to differentiate it from the Isuzu/Holden models in the competitive one-tonne pick-up market.

Mazda has been looking for a new partner since Ford made it clear that it wanted a divorce from the current arrangement. The Hiroshima outfit  does not have the resources to wholly undertake a ute development programme on its own.

The tie-up with Isuzu makes sense as both have been collaborating for more than 10 years, with Isuzu building commercial trucks for Mazda specifically for the Japanese domestic market. 

However, Isuzu was not the first choice – it is thought Nissan, Mitsubishi and Toyota have already been approached, without success.

It signed a strategic partnership agreement with Toyota in March 2015, which some saw as a sign that there could be potential for a BT-50 being spun off the current Hilux.

Nissan was thought the next bet but, of course, it has developed plans of its own. The NP300 Navara is the basis of the Renault Alaskan coming next year and a Mercedes ute arriving sometime after that. Nissan also now has a share of Mitsubishi, raising speculation that the next Triton could be drawn off the NP300 or its replacement.

A statement from Mazda Japan says their agreement will allow “Isuzu to enhance its product competiveness and Mazda to strengthen its product line-up and maintain own-brand market coverage”. 

Mazda also said the BT-50 will be sold in all major global markets, excluding the United States.

Mazda launched a facelifted version of the BT-50 late last year. This introduced minor styling changes and new comfort and safety tech, but it missed out on the Ford Sync infotainment implementation that is about to update again in Ranger around November, with CarPlay and Android Auto functionality being added to an interface that already has far more impressive interaction potentials – not least with sat nav – than is offered by Mazda.

Having the same drivetrain and performance characteristics as Ranger has not really helped BT-50, while the Ford sits comfortably at the top of the tree in sales, and sometimes achieves as the country’s top-selling new vehicle in some months, the Mazda is very much at the bottom.

The year to date counts to the end of June show Ford having moved 6818 Rangers, for 17 percent market share, while BT-50 has achieved 1381 registrations, for just four percent of the action – not brilliant when the ute market is clearly running very hot.

The Mazda sits eighth on the commercial vehicle top 15, with only the VW Amarok (825 units, two percent) and SsangYong Actyon Sport (687, 2 percent) utes achieving less penetration.

Ahead are the Toyota Hilux (5623, 14%), the Colorado (3586, 9%), the Navara (3146,8%), the Triton (2429, 6%) and D-Max (1696, 4%).