Winners and Losers of Unusual Automotive Partnerships in 2016-2017

2016 has, so far, been a year of interesting (and sometimes questionable) alliances between different automakers. The automotive industry is often a cutthroat enterprise; and sometimes the old adage “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer” has never been more true. While I’m not one to sleep with the enemy, these titans in the automotive industry have no shame. Here are some of the resulting creations, along with my own opinions as to whether or not they were a good idea.

 

Winner: Mazda MX-5 / Fiat 124 Spyder

Purists and driving enthusiasts might tell you that they won’t even think about buying the turbocharged Fiat 124 Spyder over the naturally-aspirated Mazda MX-5. Personally, I would agree. However, the Fiata is a pretty nice-looking car IMO, and it definitely appeals to people who want a roadster but care more about image than driving dynamics (although I presume the Fiat is still pretty fun to drive). Either way you split it, you have a win-win situation for both Fiat and Mazda.

 

Loser: Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class / Infiniti QX30

This one still confuses the hell out of me. Although I am fully aware that Mercedes is trying to nurture a relationship with Renault-Nissan, why on Earth would they let Infiniti make a fraternal twin of a Mercedes to compete directly with the Germans? Now some of you might be asking “but Kyle, you just said that the partnership between Mazda and Fiat was a good idea!” I stand by that because Mazda isn’t exactly wrecking their reputation by letting Fiat use the Miata chassis. Mercedes-Benz is. Here’s the rub: you can buy an Infiniti for a little bit less money (and with a little more equipment) than the Mercedes. Eventually, potential buyers are going to discover that the two SUVs are essentially the same thing. If the Infiniti starts winning in sales, it will be because the Mercedes does not have the image or prestige to be able to overcome a similarly-priced Infiniti. If the opposite happens, this won’t be good for Infiniti’s global image, either. But Mercedes-Benz will lose out either way once people find out the GLA shares DNA with a brand which, let’s not kid ourselves, has been seen for years as an overpriced Nissan.

 

Draw: Scion iA / Toyota Yaris Sedan / Mazda2

Despite the success of the FR-S, Toyota’s youth-oriented division had a hard time keeping their head above water. So they believed that two new models—the iM and the iA—would beef up some sales. The iM was essentially the European Corolla/Auris hatchback, and the iA was a badge-engineered version of the 4-door Mazda2. Unfortunately, they went Scion-ara (hue hue hue), so the iA was a bust in the sense that it did not save the company. Toyota decided to FR-S, iM and iA into their product line, and the iA became the Yaris Sedan. Was this a good move on Toyota’s part? Well, let me put it this way: if the Yaris Sedan drives anywhere near as well as the old Mazda2, it’ll be the least boring economy car that Toyota has put their badge on in a long time.

 

Upcoming: Toyota Supra / Future BMW Model

Toyota understands the importance of preserving the integrity of their most beloved models. So, while it seems unusual that Toyota would collaborate with BMW to make the MkV Supra, it makes perfect sense. You could argue that BMW is the ultimate authority in both straight-six engines and RWD chassis. If there’s any company that Toyota would trust their baby with, it would be BMW. Let’s hope they can deliver…

 

Champion: Mazda

 
 

Five years ago, a lot of people weren’t even sure that Mazda was even going to be able to hold their own after being sold by Ford. Fast forward to 2016, and the rest of the automotive industry has started to notice that Mazda is pretty damn good at making cars. The fact that two unrelated titans of the auto industry have made Mazda facsimiles ought to give the Hiroshima-based automaker a huge ego boost. As a result, I hope that Mazda can lure some customers from Fiat and Toyota. They sure as hell deserve it.