With former Land Rover North America boss Charlie Hughes in charge, Mazda's US dealers can expect a close but demanding working relationship with Mazda North American Operations.
Mazda's blurred brand image will also be brought back into focus.
Hughes takes over as president of Mazda's US subsidiary in Irvine, California, effective October 1. That will complete 16 months of Hughes' version of retirement, in which he started writing a book, did consulting work and sought venture capital for a startup in automotive e-commerce.
Hughes, 55, said the Mazda job was irresistible.
'Ford Motor Co. is the most dynamic car company in the world right now, and Mazda is high on the list of things they've got going on. If you love cars, as I do, that's an exciting place to be,' Hughes said in a phone interview.
He succeeds Richard Beattie, who was named Ford Motor Co. vice president of investor relations.
Hughes was president and CEO of Land Rover North America Inc. for 13 years, ever since it was founded.
In the early 1990s, Hughes was one of the first luxury importers to insist on exclusive franchises, called Land Rover Centers. Dealers were reluctant to make the investment, but they embraced the concept when demand took off.
Hughes created a successful image for Land Rover in the USA as the 'genuine article' in off-road driving - even though most owners rarely, if ever, leave the tarmac.
'There are three pillars you have to lean on: product; a brand message that is both clear and consistently applied; and retail,' Hughes said. 'Retail is what makes it fun. You are competing for shelf space, for share of mind of the retailer. Their profitability has to be an important element of everything you do.'
Hughes quit Land Rover in June 1999 after then-owner BMW AG tightened its control of Land Rover and parent company Rover Group. BMW later dispensed with the Rover Group and sold Land Rover to Ford Motor Co.
That makes it a small world for Hughes because Ford also has operational control of Mazda Motor Corp. In fact, Hughes will soon be a close neighbor of his old colleagues at Land Rover North America. Ford is building a Premier Automotive Group headquarters in Irvine, where it will combine its Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lincoln Mercury and Volvo operations. That building will open in the third quarter of 2001.
For now, Land Rover remains in Lanham, Maryland, near Hughes' home, but Hughes will move soon.
He acknowledged that Mazda's image needs work. 'Like all brands, the image means different things to different people. People who drive a Miata [known as the MX-5 in Europe] have a clear idea of Mazda's strengths. But the further away you get from that, it's less so,' Hughes said.
'My interest is in building a brand and in working with retailers. That makes this [Mazda job] perfect for me.'