Speculation

Mazda "listening" to see if it should bring its pickup truck to America

The redesigned Mazda BT-50 made its debut a few weeks ago.

Photo courtesy of Mazda

Should Mazda bring its BT-50 pickup truck to the U.S.? The company has said that they are "listening" to see if the public wants it. Let's take a closer look at its chances.

The BT-50 is a midsize truck. In the U.S. it would compete against the Ford Ranger, Chevrolet Colorado, Jeep Gladiator, Honda Ridgeline, GMC Canyon, and Nissan Frontier. The pickup truck field is set to get more competitive as the Hyundai Santa Cruz and Volkswagen Amarok coning to market in the next few years.

2021 Mazda BT-50The backside of the Mazda BT-50 is pretty standard for a pickup truck. Photo courtesy of Mazda

Mazda's truck is built on the Isuzu D-Max platform and is built at Isuzu Motors Thailand. Despite this, the model has a fair amount of Mazda's Kodo design language ... at least on the outside. That starts at its face where the truck wears a grille and headlights similar to the three-row CX-9 SUV.

The inside is a different story. Here, the BT-50 is mostly an Isuzu but there are a few bobbles that are from the Mazda parts bin - sort of like what Toyota has done with the inherently BMW cabin of the 2020 Toyota Supra.

Under the hood is a 3.0-liter turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine that delivers 188 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque. The engine is paired with a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission.

It's available in either two- or four-wheel drive.

Mazda boasts that the model will be able to tow up to 7,716 pounds and have a maximum payload of 2,348 pounds.

2021 Mazda BT-50The interior of the BT-50 is straight from the Isuzu playbook, but it does have some Mazda touches.Photo courtesy of Mazda

But will it come to the U.S.? In a statement, Mazda told Roadshow, "We are excited for those regions receiving the all-new BT-50, featuring Mazda's powerful design, exceptional driving dynamics and utilitarian function," Mazda said in a statement. "While we haven't announced future availability of the BT-50 pickup truck in the US, we'd love to hear what our fans here think. We're listening."

Aside from demand, the biggest hurdle for the BT-50 to jump through for its arrival in the U.S. would be the fact that it's subject to a chicken tax tariff. The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) that recently replaced the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has a rules of origin clause for automobiles that requires 75 percent of the value of a vehicle to come from the area within the USMCA governing region. That tax and the cost of shipping could make the BT-50 cost prohibitive for most buyers.

The verdict: Don't bet on the BT-50 coming to the U.S. anytime soon. If you want to drive it, you'll want to head to Australia where it arrives for sale later this year.

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The CX-50 is surpsingly capable off-road.

Mazda

I have driven all of the Mazda vehicles that have been sold in the US market over the past three decades. On everyday roads and on racetracks. I’ve appreciated their “zoom-zoom”. Good power. Punchy torque just where it was needed. Well-balanced and sporty handling. A bit of growl for the versions that called for it. Plus, tasteful-but-modest styling and more or less elbow room, depending on the model. Mazda’s have been made for sports-car enthusiasts and to ferry families. But, I had never known a Mazda called an “overlander”. Until now.

2023 Mazda CX-50Towing capacity extends to 2,000 pounds.Mazda

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 moves this traction-sophisticated automaker into the lands where the pavement ends and now takes the brand ‘off-track’. Although it’s not a new thing for many of today’s carmakers to add a backcountry model or two to their lineup, it’s new for Mazda. I traveled to Santa Barbara, California to check out this all-new crossover built on Mazda’s seventh-generation small SUV platform that is shared with the smaller CX-30. This 5-passenger utility is longer, lower and wider than the CX-5 that rides on the previous generation’s underpinnings. The CX-50 has been crafted with a roomier second row and more cargo room for the goods and gear that weekend warriors and adventurers want to carry.

The CX-50 comes with a choice of two engines: a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine with cylinder deactivation that gets 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, and Mazda’s Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter turbo-charged powerplant with 256 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque; both shift through a six-speed automatic transmission. The sport ute can tow up to 2,000 lbs. with the naturally aspirated motor and up to 3,500 lbs. with the turbo-charged mill and Intelligent Drive Select (Mi-Drive) that brings a tow mode as well as Normal, Sport and Off-Road. The newest Mazda model has been made for North America only and is built in Alabama. It is the first Mazda vehicle with auto start/stop that can be deactivated.

2023 Mazda CX-50Mazda is a master of upscale interiors. Mazda

The new crossover starts at $26,800 and comes in S, S Select, S Preferred, S Preferred Plus, S Premium, and S Premium Plus with the base motor. Turb-charged versions come in Turbo, Turbo Premium, and Turbo Premium Plus that tops out at close to $42,000. A long list of technology and safety features are standard or available. Mazda says that Meridian, a fourth turbo trim will arrive soon with even more off-road cred; it will be set up with 18-inch black wheels AT, hood graphics and other backcountry goodies.

When you look at the CX-50, the first thing you’ll notice is exterior styling that speaks to its adventure-ready mission. Muscular bodywork, such as extra cladding, wide fender flairs and larger, more aggressive tires mean that this crossover has been designed not only to give a nod to the looks of a rugged crossover but to provide enhanced traction and a tad more suspension stretch for motoring over uneven terrain and along bumpy dirt roads. Planted on its haunches with functional air vents, it eschews minivan styling with a low and wide footprint that allows owners to have easy access to high-strength roof rails for loading gear on top; the roof has been made stronger than other Mazda crossovers to accommodate heavier loads, such as a roof-top tent. A panoramic moonroof- a first for Mazda- and attractive antiglare hood graphics and are tasteful additions.

The interior is attractive and roomy, with horizontal lines and “cleanable” surfaces as a nod to outdoor endeavors. Our Turbo Premium Plus model had bright orange reverse stitching that popped the cabin that has been crafted with uplevel trims and materials and brought heads-up display. A 7-inch infotainment screen is standard, while the top models get a 10.25-inch version. A wireless charging pad and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all trims. Of note, is the rear power and programmable liftgate to the wide and deep rear cargo compartment, with a load floor that flush with the liftgate opening to help slide heavy items in and out of the back. An available line of cargo accessories makes stowage easier.

2023 Mazda CX-50The CX-50 is family roadtrip ready.Mazda

How did it handle over the 200-plus miles of our ride and drive? The Turbo Premium Plus CX-50 offers a lot like; many of its driving attributes are consistent with Mazda’s tuning and handling priorities across its product line. Traveling along coastal highways, carving mountainous twisties with tight turns and accelerating on flat and straight well-graded pavement, it has great Mazda manners: i.e., there is enough power and torque in the right bandwidth to move it well; precise steering with a slightly heavily-weighted leather-wrapped steering wheel and well-modulated brakes, especially with towing a 3,500-lb. load. We enjoyed using Sport mode for carving corners, as it brings elongated shifts from the six-speed automatic; a crisp response comes when sport shifting in “manual mode” and provides a quick throttle response.

We tried out the Off-Road mode on a course that included flat and uneven dirt roads, as well as hill climb and descent. Although there is no downhill descent control system, the brakes worked well, along with manual gearing. Of note, Mazda would be wide to add downhill descent engineering for steeper and slicker terrain. We were able to test the difference between Normal and Off-Road over a special section of the course with sandy corners and a winding track at a speed of 30 mph showing the improved traction in the Off-Road programming and the aid of Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control that brings a bit of magic to transfer torque to the wheels where it is needed to keep the intended track-think of it like an enhanced traction control program that helps with steering and yaw control.

2023 Mazda CX-50The CX-50 comes with off-road driving modes. Mazda

Other aids for off-road and backcountry travel are: the i-Activ All-Wheel Drive system that is standard equipment on all CX-50s, with a 50/50ish power transfer front to back; 8.6 inches of ground clearance; an 18-degree approach angle and a 24-degree departure angle; and an optional 360-degree camera system.

*EPA reports: base motor fuel economy 24 city/30 highway mpg, while the turbo option gets 23/29 mpg and can run on regular or premium fuel.

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First-year Ford F-150 Lightning production numbers doubled
Ford

Ford has begun serial production of the new F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck, marking what could be one of the most important days in recent automotive history. The first trucks rolled off the assembly line at Ford's Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Michigan today, so America's best-selling truck has finally gone electric. Ford wants to sell two million EVs per year by 2026 and have half of its global sales volume to be electric by 2030.

Ford F-150 LightningPast meets future: Ford's new electric pickup will be the F-150 Lightningautomotivemap.com

Ford has seen extreme demand for the trucks, with 200,000 reservations since the books opened. To deliver, the automaker plans to increase production to an annual rate of 150,000 units by next year, which involved huge investments in the Rouge Center and created hundreds of jobs. Ford's total investment for the F-150 Lightning crests $1 billion across Michigan alone, and has created 1,700 jobs across various facilities in the state.

Ford F-150 LightningThe first production trucks left the factory today.
Ford Motor Company

Though the Lightning starts around $40,000, the most mainstream models will cost much more than that. The F-150 Lightning Pro, while affordable, is a stripped-down truck intended for commercial buyers. It's still a forward-looking electric truck with amazing capabilities, but it lacks much of the creature comforts and features that everyday drivers expect. Higher trims get the latest driver assistance features, including BlueCruise, which is Ford's semi-autonomous hands-free driving assistant. A 12-inch touchscreen is standard, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, navigation, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and more.

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