Last week, the automotive world got a little bit smaller. Toyota and Mazda announced that they have entered into a long-term partnership to share development costs and collaborate on future models. While this isn’t exactly a merger, the deal has been described as an “agreement [that] will go beyond the traditional framework of cooperation, aiming instead to create a whole new set of values for cars through wide-ranging medium to long term collaboration.” And unlike most automotive partnerships, this one actually looks to be beneficial for both parties.
Mazda has been in the middle of a renaissance as of late. After being jettisoned by Ford in the midst of the global financial crisis, the company has managed to not only remain independent, but field one of the best automotive lineups in the world today. But things can change quickly, and analysts have raised concerns as to whether or not Mazda could remain solvent if it was hit with lagging sales, or another financial crisis. With access to Toyota’s vast resources, Mazda could soon find itself in even better shape than it was under Ford’s wing.
Toyota also stands to benefit from the deal in some very big ways. The company’s position as the world’s largest automaker is currently threatened by Volkswagen Auto Group, and an increase in sales and more a attractive lineup could be enough to keep the Germans at bay. Toyota’s cars have long been considered antiseptic and boring, and it couldn’t have found a better partner than Mazda if it’s looking to inject a little life into its lineup.
While this news could have a major impact on the auto industry, it wasn’t entirely a surprise. The companies have been circling each other for years, with Mazda being allowed to build cars in Toyota’s Mexican plant, and the new Scion iA being little more than a Mazda2 sedan. The relationship isn’t mutually exclusive either – Toyota is working with BMW to develop a new sports car, while Mazda is working with Fiat-Chrysler to do the same.
While it may be a few years off before jointly-designed cars reach Toyota and Mazda showrooms, here are five current models that could benefit most from the new Mazda-Toyota partnership.
The Camry has long been the best-selling car in America, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best car out there. In Car and Driver’s recent ranking of the best midsize sedans, the Camry ranked an unimpressive eighth. The winner? The Mazda6, whose gorgeous looks, fantastic handling, and (optional) world-class manual transmission makes the sub-$25,000 car feel like it costs twice as much. Toyota has made much of its attempt to make the new for 2015 edgier and more engaging, but compared to the Mazda6, it’s still pretty boring. A little Mazda DNA in the next Camry could go a long way in helping the car shed it’s vanilla image.
2. Mazda CX-9
Mazda’s biggest SUV is still plenty capable, but at nine years old, its beginning to show its age. Its platform dates back to Mazda’s days under Ford, and still shares its underpinnings with the Ford Edge. While its recent facelift, great handling (for its class), and luxurious interior have kept it competitive in the mid-size SUV market, it won’t be long before the CX-9 feels downright old-fashioned. Before the new model debuts for 2017, Mazda should borrow a thing or two from Toyota’s Highlander, including its proven hybrid powertrain.
3. Toyota Corolla
If you looked up bland in the dictionary, you might find a picture of a Corolla. It’s exceptionally well-built, it holds its resale value well, and unfortunately has to compete in a segment with the Mazda3, one of the best cars money can buy. Named to Car and Driver’s 10Best list in 2014 (alongside the Mazda6), the 3 offers style and performance that was once thought of as unthinkable for an entry-level car. The Corolla may outsell the 3 by three-to-one, but the Mazda makes the Corolla look like a penalty box by comparison. If the next-generation Corolla were nothing more than a rebadged Mazda3, the world would be better off for it.
The Mazda5 is taking its final bow after the 2015 model year, and while it was never nearly as popular as the best-selling Toyota Sienna, it still fills an important niche in the market. It’s the smallest minivan available, and its car-like handling and stylish looks make the 5 stand out from the rest of the pack. If Mazda built a people mover that learned from the best-selling Sienna while keeping the unique car-like qualities of the 5, it may well have a hit on its hands.
5. Toyota Yaris
Like its larger siblings, the Yaris offers plenty in terms of space, reliability, and value – but little else. Toyota plans on entering the car in the 2017 World Rally Championship series, but other than that, the Yaris doesn’t offer much in terms of excitement. Also like its larger siblings, the Yaris could learn a thing or two from its Mazda rival. The pint-sized Mazda2 offers the corner-carving handling of the Miata with a great interior, and enough room to rival the Yaris in a sub-$20,000 five-door subcompact. If Toyota wants to learn how to corner before it goes rallying, it should start taking tips from Mazda about handling.
If all goes well, the Mazda-Toyota partnership could be incredibly important next chapter for these companies. Once it was free from Ford, Mazda was able to develop a lineup that can punch well above its weight. Toyota is looking to capture some of Mazda’s recent magic, and Mazda is looking for financial stability as it continues to grow. It may be years before the first jointly-developed car rolls off the assembly line, but after looking at their respective lineups, a relationship between Mazda an Toyota makes a lot of sense.