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Mazda USA CEO: We're hiring for a new car plant in Alabama but 'the turnout is not overwhelming'

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Mazda CEO & President Jeff Guyton joins Yahoo Finance's Seana Smith, Adam Smith, and Karina Mitchell to discuss the company's new car plant in Alabama, the company's rollout of new vehicles, and the plans for electric vehicles.

Video transcript

ADAM SHAPIRO: Help wanted. They need 1,400 employees to get up to full employment at the new Mazda-Toyota manufacturing plant in Alabama. And Mazda's got some brand-new vehicles they're bringing into the market in 2022 for those of us who are 6' 2" or taller. I loved driving the Mazda Miata, but I was too tall, so the new SUV or the crossover, the CX-50 may be more my speed.

Let's talk about all of this with the president and CEO of Mazda North America, Jeff Guyton. It's good to have you here, Jeff.

Where do you want to begin? Do you want to talk about this venture to produce more vehicles-- because I know you're on a banner sales year at the plant down south-- or do you want to talk about the CX-50 because it's an exciting crossover?

JEFF GUYTON: Well, let me start by talking about our plant in Alabama, which is a partnership between Mazda and Toyota. And, really, that plant is bringing together two of the world's, I think, best automotive manufacturers, bringing our best production engineers, together bringing technology from both parents and also creating new technologies as we go. And it's really very exciting to see that plant coming together.

As you mentioned, the help-wanted sign is out, and we're very much looking forward to welcoming a total of 4,000 people onto our campus and a couple thousand more at new local suppliers.

SEANA SMITH: Jeff, Adam mentioned the banner year that Mazda is having. Year-to-date sales are up just about 30%. What models are people buying, and what do you think's driving that huge uptick that we're seeing in your sales?

JEFF GUYTON: Well, actually almost all of our car lines are up. There are several factors behind. One is that, you know, we probably have the best product line that we've ever had, and it's going to get better with the CX-50. But if I look at every model tested this year by IIHS, every Mazda tested received Top Safety Pick+. We have a new consumer finance partner in Mazda Financial Services, and that is driving additional traction in showrooms. And we have 200 next-generation stores operating, and we'll have 300 in just 12 months' time. And that actually represents an enormous investment, along with the plant in Alabama and the CX-50, into this market. So we're very pleased to see a return on that investment this year.

- Jeff, I'm 5' 2", not 6' 2", so I don't know which Mazda vehicle will be the best for me. But I want to congratulate you because Mazda was just voted as the second-most-reliable car brand by "Consumer Reports." Last year it was voted number one. What makes your vehicles consistently so reliable and Japanese vehicles overall?

JEFF GUYTON: Well, I think, you know, it's very interesting. We spend an awful lot of time with statistics and measurements and teaching people, frankly, how to put things together in a very consistent way.

But the Mazda way is to go one step further, which is to actually engineer to a feeling. How does the car feel, and how do we make people feel when they're on board the car, whether they're driving or passengers? So in addition to that reliability that you mentioned, we try to make vehicles engaging to drive and fun to own.

- And I want to ask you again, you know, talk to me about the support system for these EVs as far as plant capacity. What is the maximum number of cars that you're able to produce? How much labor do you employ? And then have you actually seen labor shortages or, you know, difficulties with the labor market? Many sectors have.

JEFF GUYTON: Well, what I can say is that in terms of our-- we were just talking about the Alabama plant, and we have been-- I would say we're on pace. So we start building CX-50 in January next year, and it'll be in showrooms in the spring. We're on pace for hiring in the plant.

But, you know, the turnout is not overwhelming, and it's not that we have a big surplus. So we're on track. We're also building already the partner product in the plant, the Corolla Cross from Toyota. It's not related to the CX-50 in any way other than these two children are growing up in the same house. But that vehicle is already in production. So we are making great strides, but we've got-- we've got more to do.

ADAM SHAPIRO: So let's talk about that because what do you say to the folk who might critically say Mazda's late to the game with EV? For instance, the MX-30, it's an electric vehicle, but others are well out. I mean, Jaguar's had an electric crossover for the last four years, and this will only have a range of a hundred miles. We're already talking-- I mean, at least for sedans-- 500-mile ranges. So when does Mazda catch up?

JEFF GUYTON: Sure. So the way that I would look at this is right now 95% or more of vehicles sold in the US are essentially conventionally powered. That's the first point. Second point is that customers, the ones that we've surveyed, most of them drive less than 30 miles a day. And the third point is that we in the US do not have a very sustainable electric power grid.

So when we put all of these factors together and say what is the real-world benefit towards CO2 and reducing greenhouse gas and the environment? we need many, many solutions, not just a long-range EV. We need to put EVs in the hands of many customers. We need to have alternatives to EV which also reduce carbon emissions, whether they're conventional powertrains or plug-in hybrids or other things. And so we take an approach that says what is the real-world impact of carbon emissions? not just the simple explanation that there isn't a tailpipe on board the car.

SEANA SMITH: So, Jeff, then looking out 5 to 10 years, I guess how do you see Mazda then playing into the future of EVs? Are you still going to be a smaller player in this space, or as we do get more investment into the space and we do have a more efficient electric power grid here in the US, are you waiting for that type of investment in order to scale your production of EVs?

JEFF GUYTON: Sure, and that's exactly right, and that's the necessary element, along with developments in battery technology, that allow us to really provide what society needs right now, which is less greenhouse gas. We will introduce by 2025 13 electrified vehicles, three of them purely battery electric, also hybrid and plug-in hybrid models depending on what customers need.

ADAM SHAPIRO: All right, Jeff Guyton is the president of Mazda North America. We appreciate your being here.

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