Skid Marks

Mazda opens heavily upgraded Malaysian assembly facility

Mazda’s new factory in Kulim, Malaysia is at par with its Ujina and Hofu facilities in Japan.

Mazda’s new factory in Kulim, Malaysia is at par with its Ujina and Hofu facilities in Japan.

Malaysia is known as a cultural melting pot. Three races live and work seamlessly: Chinese (mostly Fookien and some Cantonese), Indian (and similar race), and of course the Malay.

You can imagine how good the food is in Malaysia, a population with less than a third of the Philippines, yet the country’s buying power is easily twice to thrice that of our country’s per capita.

This population has also allowed the Malaysian automotive industry to grow to a level of 770,000 units a year, a figure which has been stable for the last few years.

The large majority of vehicles in the country, however, are manufactured by state-owned Proton and Perodua. But things have been changing.

The Japanese brands have slowly been making headway into the local automotive market, and now with Mazda Malaysia, the country is poised to become a regional manufacturing and assembly facility for the Mazda brand with the opening of their Kulim Factory, making it a potential competitor and regional automotive manufacturing powerhouse much like Thailand and Indonesia.

A Mazda manufactured in Malaysia will be cheaper for the entire Asean market, thanks to the AFTA Free-Trade Agreement, which can potentially dodge the looming excise tax increase slated to be implemented in January of 2018, just three months, or under 100 days from now.

Surely, a cheaper Mazda, particularly the CX-5, becomes very desirable, even if it were to lose its “Made in Japan” status.

Mazda’s Kulim Plant is practically brand new, despite being utilized for the assembly of Mazda 3 sedans and hatchbacks since 2012.

Located inside Inokom, a toll-manufacturing facility owned by the Sime Darby Group in Kulim, near the island paradise and IT hub that is Penang Island in Northwestern Malaysia, the Mazda factory is a dedicated assembly line for Mazda vehicles that recently received a massive 2.3 billion yen (roughly $20.47 million) investment to modernize and standardize the manufacturing and assembly processes of the Kulim Factory, making it at par with Mazda’s Ujina and Hofu facilities in Japan, as well as Mazda’s assembly facilities in China and Mexico in the Americas.

The two biggest upgrades to the existing assembly line were the robotic welding arms, which play a huge part in delivering a very solid and sturdy chassis, as the biggest panels are welded by robots rather than humans.

The smaller areas, sections and additional spot welds are done manually by local workers only after the main super structure of the chassis has been welded by the aforementioned robots.

The second major component of the investment is a highly automated, dust-free and almost 100 percent sealed painting station which is truly state of the art.

We were not allowed to enter the said facility for risk of contaminating the bare chassis shells undergoing preparation.

This new painting facility can paint Mazda’s premium colors such as Soul Red Crystal, it’s signature color and Machine Grey, a modern metallic grey hue.

Currently, the Kulim factory has the potential to manufacture a total of 20,000 units of the CX-5.

Though there are no specific plans yet, the facility can be tweaked to produce other Mazda vehicles, depending on demand for the Asean market.

Assembly of the RHD CX-5s—destined predominantly for Malaysia, Thailand and other RHD markets—started in Aug. 29, 2017, and the factory is still slowly ramping up production based on demand.

“We see Malaysia as an important production base in the Asean region, and with the aim of establishing a sturdy production system, we’ve worked closely with our business partners to develop manufacturing of Mazda cars here,” said Masatoshi Maruyama, Mazda’s managing executive officer in charge of Global Production and Business Logistics.

Hiroshi Inoue, Mazda’s managing executive officer in charge of Asean business, said, “Customers in Asean markets are constantly raising the bar for Mazda’s products, technologies and quality standards. We see it as our mission to offer value that exceeds their expectations. And the Malaysia-made all-new CX-5, which is imbued with Mazda’s passion for car-making, is just the model to do that.”

Mazda and its partner, Bermaz Auto, are taking things very seriously. The Kulim factory is a strategic move for the brand, and they are taking a 100-1 = 0 stance: for every 100 cars made, even if only 1 car is found at fault, then the entire batch of cars will be deemed a failure.

Though there are no specific plans to add another vehicle to the Kulim assembly, Mazda has said they are always willing to increase capacity or invest more should there be a significant increase in demand for any Mazda vehicles throughout the Asean market.

The Malaysian-made CX-5s have much to prove.

Thankfully, many Japanese engineers have joined the fold, transplanting themselves from Japan to Kulim to help manage, educate, improve and share their know-how to the local workforce and bring their work standards at par with that of Mazda’s Japanese facilities worldwide.

In November of this year, the Kulim plant is slated to begin production of export units to Asean countries, including the Philippines.

Steven Tan, CEO of Bermaz Auto Philippines, is excited at the prospect of sourcing models from Malaysia as this means less waiting time.

Currently, the CX-5 has a three to four months waiting list in the Philippines, which means it is potentially losing a lot of clients to other brands simply because clients cannot afford to wait.

Steven expects Malaysian-made CX-5s to become available by Q1 of 2018.

The big question is, if the Malaysian-made CX-5s arrive, will they be cheaper, with Mazda Philippines passing on any savings to us, the consumer, or will they simply improve the standard equipment specifications?

I hope it will be a bit (or a lot) of both. Safety equipment, big wheels, a nice interior package, and and excellent infotainment system are always welcome to make the daily, traffic-riddled commute a more pleasant experience.

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