In a daring and potentially harmful move – Mazda has decided to ditch the idea of full autonomy in favor of driver experience.
After changing its iconic “Zoom-Zoom” slogan back in 2015, the brand adopted a new identity to live by with the introduction of the tagline – “Driving Matters.” Back in 2015, I, along with others, were left scratching our collective heads. Of course driving matters, Mazda. Why the hell do you need to use your company slogan to remind drivers of this fact? They are drivers, after all.
Not a year later, the confusing new Mazda slogan was beginning to make more sense. Autonomous driving vehicles were starting to gain traction, and while they have always been “out there,” it seemed that their actual introduction was closer than ever before.
The focus in the automotive industry shifted away from the driver experience, and toward a future absent of a driver at all. As more and more press releases and news surrounding the subject of full-vehicle autonomy were circulated, the more we understood Mazda.
Fast forward exactly two years after the Japanese automaker dumped Zoom-Zoom for Driving Matters, the puzzle is near completion. Mazda has recently participated in multiple interviews with various media outlets to clarify their stance on vehicle autonomy. The brand’s CEO, Masamichi Kogai, firmed up Mazda’s driverless car intentions in an interview with Forbes. Stating that, “Our mission is to provide the essence of driving pleasure,” Kogai further enforced the fact that Mazda and its customers aren’t interested in full vehicle autonomy in the same way other brands are.
In a separate interview, Mazda’s North American CEO, Masahiro Moro, told Bloomberg that, “We believe driving pleasure should never die. And we’re selling our products to a core customer who loves driving. We’ll always take a human-centric approach. The driver will have control and we’ll try to improve peace of mind.”
Mazda may be one of the better-known car brands here in the United States, but it’s important to note that the Japanese automaker only accounts for two percent of the marketplace share. When that realization comes into play, it doesn’t seem to matter as much that Mazda is effectively going against the industry trend toward full vehicle autonomy.
One of the only car brands with a loyal band of customers who truly believe that Driving Matters, Mazda’s take on autonomy makes sense.
On the other hand, major auto brands like Ford have near-future plans to nix the steering wheel from a few of their models entirely. Elon Musk, the outspoken Chief Executive of Tesla, says that the future of driverless cars is inevitable and unavoidable. In a conference call with Wall Street analysts in November of 2016, Musk likened owning a driveable car to owning a horse – sentimental, but useless. In the same call, Musk predicted that, “Any cars that are being made that don’t have full autonomy will have negative value.”
As driverless cars become available to the public in the coming years, it will be interesting to see whether Mazda or Tesla had it right. Who knows? Maybe both will be right in their own way.