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Mazda and Isuzu to jointly develop next-generation utes

Mazda will partner with Isuzu for next its next generation ute - due in 2020

Now Mazda and Isuzu have joined forces, what does that mean for next Holden Colorado ute?

One mystery has been solved and another has been created.

Mazda will partner with Isuzu for its next generation ute - due in 2020 - but now it’s unclear what the future holds for the Isuzu-based Holden Colorado.

Following Mazda's shock split with Ford -- with which it has had a partnership for more than 30 years -- it has confirmed it will jointly develop the next BT-50 with commercial vehicle specialist Isuzu.

The news of the tie-up was so top secret, representatives from Isuzu in Australia had no idea a deal had been signed.

It means the all-new Mazda BT-50 and Isuzu D-Max will share the same underpinnings and engines but will likely have unique bodies.

The revelation explains why so few changes were made to the Mazda BT-50 for its most recent update last year -- when only the headlights, grille, tail-lights were changed at a time when the Ford Ranger came in for significant upgrades.

While the Ford Ranger gained world-first technology for compact pick-ups such as lane-keeping assistance and radar cruise control, as well as a new turbocharger, new injectors, electric power steering, a new dash, and a new body from the windscreen forward, the Mazda BT-50 remained untouched in those areas from when it was launched in 2011.

The current generation Mazda BT-50 is expected to be built in the jointly owned Ford-Mazda factory in Thailand until late 2019, when it will be phased out and replaced by a version of the next generation Isuzu D-Max.

The news of the tie-up was so top secret, representatives from Isuzu in Australia had no idea a deal had been signed.

A statement from Mazda issued late Monday said the two companies “have reached a basic agreement on next-generation pick-up truck collaboration, allowing Isuzu to enhance its product competiveness and Mazda to strengthen its product line-up and maintain own-brand market coverage”.

The statement said Isuzu will produce the vehicle for Mazda at its factory in Thailand and that it will be based on Isuzu’s next generation D-Max.

While there was speculation Mazda might partner with Toyota and build a version of the HiLux (Mazda uses Toyota’s hybrid system and Mazda builds a small car for Toyota overseas), Isuzu has been making Mazda trucks for the Japanese market for the past 10 years.

“This agreement reinforces the continuous long-term relationship between Mazda and Isuzu,” the Mazda statement says.

Fellow Japanese maker Isuzu is the pick-up market leader in developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

However, Isuzu is outsold by Toyota, Ford, Holden, Mitsubishi and Nissan in Australia.

All industry eyes will be on the new partnership because the Mazda BT-50 is currently a derivative of the Ford Ranger -- the number two seller in Australia -- whereas the Isuzu D-Max is second-last of the mainstream utes in local sales, narrowly ahead of the Mazda BT-50.

The Mazda BT-50 has been a sales disaster, selling at less than half the rate of the Ford Ranger since the latest models went on sale in 2011, despite initially being identical under the sheet metal.

Mazda dealers say buyers have not warmed to the swoopy BT-50 styling, which was meant to bring passenger-car appeal to its workhorse but ended up polarising opinion.

It is unclear at this stage what the Mazda-Isuzu deal means for Isuzu’s partnership with General Motors and the Holden Colorado.

The current Holden Colorado and Isuzu D-Max utes share the same chassis and were originally developed side-by-side (although made in separate Thailand factories) before a rift developed and each brand elected to go their own way with diesel engines.

But in 2013 Isuzu and General Motors issued a statement saying they had “signed a memorandum of understanding to begin talks on the potential joint development of next-generation pickup trucks”.

Representatives from Holden and Isuzu said it was too early to determine what the Mazda-Isuzu tie-up meant for the GM-Isuzu deal.

The current Mazda BT-50 and Isuzu D-Max utes will likely remain on sale in their current guise until 2019, by which time they will be long overdue for replacement and surrounded by much newer competition.

Holden is about to launch an updated version of its Colorado ute ahead of an all-new model due by 2020.

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