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Mazda North America CEO retires, new head to focus on increasing sales

by Ben Hsu

Jim O\'Sullivan has retired from Mazda. Succeeding him will be Masahiro Moro.

Mazda is like a brilliant independent film. While not the biggest in terms of blockbuster sales, it is the critical darling amongst those whose professions it is to study and write about cars. Over the holidays, some big changes were afoot at the small, indie automaker, including the departure of its North American CEO.

Jim O'Sullivan, age 62, has retired his post as president and CEO of Mazda North America effective December 31, 2015. Succeeding him will be Masahiro Moro, who comes from his post as head of the global sales and marketing division.

O'Sullivan joined Mazda in 2003 as a transplant from Ford, when the former was still under partial ownership from the latter. However, when Mazda and Ford split up in 2008, O'Sullivan stayed on and helped the small but innovative automaker forge a path of independence.

As other automakers abandoned the nice of enthusiast vehicles, Mazda doubled down on them, creating the fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 and a slew of brilliantly fun-to-drive sedans and crossovers. However, Mazda continued to develop new fuel-efficiency technologies such as its SkyActiv range of powerplants and manufacturing techniques, and pioneer new directions in design with its Kodo-themed cars. You could say O'Sullivan was the perfect fit. A die-hard racer, he was not shy about climbing behind the wheels of Mazda's fleet of vintage race cars for a sprint or two.

Despite Mazda's excellent product portfolio, the company has not seen sales successes befitting of its lineup. That's where Moro comes in. The new North American head honcho hails from company HQ in Hiroshima, Japan, where he headed global marketing, sales and "customer innovation" efforts. In an interview with Automotive News, he has stated that the red-hot crossover market will be the key to Mazda's growth and hopes to see 50 percent of sales devoted to crossovers in the next two to three years.

A crossover-heavy range does not necessarily mean an abandonment of enthusiast machines, however. Mazda has proven it can engineer superb, car-like handling dynamics in vehicles such as the CX-5 and recently launched CX-3. The upcoming CX-9 will continue the trend, according to Mazda engineers we have spoken with. Furthermore, Mazda has affirmed its commitment to sports cars with the RX-Vision concept. Critics have already given Mazda all the accolades an automaker could want. Now it just needs the sales to match.

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