* New cars to be based on Mazda rear-wheel drive platform
* To be built at Mazda's factory in Hiroshima, Japan
* Both companies play down possibility of equity alliance
* Spider will be made from 2015, will be styled by Alfa
* Mazda shares close up 0.9 pct; Fiat down 1.3 percent
By Chang-Ran Kim and Jennifer Clark
TOKYO/MILAN, May 23 Mazda Motor Corp
and Fiat SpA will join forces to make new versions of
their most famous sports cars, the MX-5 and the Alfa Romeo
Spider, helping the two companies cut costs and possibly paving
the way for a deeper alliance.
A joint venture announced on Wednesday will not include any
equity tie-up but joins a long line of partnerships which
carmakers have forged, aiming to share research and development
costs and keep prices competitive in a tough market.
"I think this project itself is only the beginning. It opens
a channel of communication between two companies that have never
worked together" said UBS auto analyst Tatsuo Yoshida. "They
said today that they're going to explore cooperation in Europe,
but there's always scope for more, including the United States,
The new cars will be based on a Mazda rear-wheel drive
platform and will be built at Mazda's factory in Hiroshima,
The Alfa Spider, famed for its starring role in 1967 movie
The Graduate, will be made from 2015 and will be styled
separately by the Italian company, so the engine and look will
be Alfa Romeo rather than Mazda.
Alfa Romeo pulled out of the United States in 1995 and is
already set to return in late 2013 with the planned 4C
Some analysts expect the revamped Spider to boost Alfa in
the world's biggest two-seater sports car market and saw sales
of around 20,000 a year.
"Over time, if you do a decent job of sharing platforms and
engines, you can gradually grow scale," said analyst Philippe
Houchois at UBS. "The accord with Mazda shows that Fiat, among
Europe's three weakest car makers, is the one with the clearest
plan for going forward."
Fiat has already built the small 500 in a joint venture with
Ford Motor Co's Ka; the Fiat Punto with the Opel
Corsa; and the Fiat Seidici with a Suzuki Motor Corp
mini-SUV, sharing the investment costs of around 1 billion euros
($1.3 billion) needed to develop each new car.
Mazda's MX-5, launched in 1989, is the best-selling two-seat
convertible sports car in history, with more than 900,000 sold,
according to the Guinness Book of World Records in 2011.
But Japan's fifth-largest car maker is looking lonely on the
global car alliance scene.
Ford owned a third of Mazda's shares under a 31-year
alliance, but had to sell most of its stake to raise cash and
now owns just 2 percent, leaving the Japanese company to link up
with several rivals in joint ventures.
Cost savings from such deals have not been enough to save
Mazda from posting four years of losses, as it struggles with a
strong yen, which makes its cars less competitive overseas.
It builds most of its cars in Japan and exports almost 80
percent of them.
Analysts said the Fiat deal was not a panacea but was still
Mazda shares initially jumped 4.7 percent on reports of a
tie-up, but fell back to close up 0.9 percent. Fiat shares were
down 1.3 percent, outperforming a 3 percent drop in Italian
stocks as a whole.
"Developing the next (MX-5) iteration for Mazda alone would
have been difficult to justify, and this arrangement allows them
to do that," said Yoshida.
The Italian group already owns 58.5 percent of Chrysler and
wants to buy the rest. It is expected to complete its global
footprint by adding an Asian partner at some stage, despite a
troubled history with former Chinese partners. In India it has a
manufacturing deal with Tata Motors.
Both Mazda and Fiat played down the possibility of an equity
alliance, saying their non-binding memorandum of understanding
did not involve such talks.
The companies will, however, discuss opportunities to
cooperate in Europe, they said in a statement. Mazda sold
128,238 cars in the shrinking European market last year, around
the same volume as Alfa Romeo. Fiat-Chrysler sold 928,390.
A final agreement between the companies is expected to be
signed in the second half of this year.
Yoshida noted Mazda could make a new car in one of Fiat's
factories in Europe.