After 37 years in the U.S. market, Mazda has dropped the B-Series compact pickup truck. The news was confirmed to PickupTrucks.com Tuesday evening by Jeremy Barnes, Mazda's U.S. director of communications & national events.
The first Mazda B-Series pickups were imported into the U.S. from Japan in 1972. Their small size and relatively fuel efficient sub-2.0-liter, four-cylinder engines would prove to be very popular with American truck buyers -- along with similar trucks offered by Toyota and Nissan -- during the oil shocks of the 1970s.
Mazda broke new ground with the B-Series when it became the first -- and only -- pickup to offer a rotary engine. The 1974-77 Mazda featured a 110-horsepower Wankel motor that could hit well above 7,000 rpm. Combined with a super-short 4.63 final drive ratio and gobs of torque, the REPU was the street-performance pickup of its day, yet it could carry up to 1,400 pounds of payload.
The second-generation 1980-85 Mazda B-Series debuted with larger 2.0-liter and 2.2-liter four pot engines. Its popularity grew. A record 119,127 units were sold in 1984 – third in the segment, behind Toyota and Nissan.
Mazda spent more than $100 million to design and develop the third-generation 1986-93 B-Series pickups to specifically meet the needs of the U.S. market, Mazda’s largest. U.S. buyers wanted a multipurpose vehicle that could be used for commuting and leisure activities as well as traditional commercial applications, whereas a pickup was considered a work vehicle throughout the rest of the world. The B-Series continued to use four-cylinder engines, though they grew in displacement up to 2.6 liters.
Ford stopped using the B-Series platform and started domestic production of the all-new Ford Ranger compact pickup in 1982. Beginning in the 1960s, Japanese imported pickups were slapped with a 25% federal tariff on every unit during a trade dispute between the U.S. and Japanese governments. The so-called “chicken tax” (which continues to this day for pickups) motivated Mazda and Ford to merge their trucks onto the Ranger platform in 1994 to cut costs.
The fourth generation B-Series pickup was produced from 1994-97 at Ford’s Twin Cities plant in Minnesota. It was the first time the B-Series could be purchased with a six-cylinder engine.
The fifth-generation (1998-2009) Mazda B-Series pickups saw a steady downward slide in sales, from 41,620 units in 1998 to only 1,319 units in 2008. The B-Series became trapped on the Ranger’s platform, which remained virtually unchanged. Meanwhile, both Asian and domestic compact pickup manufacturers continued to invest and develop new small trucks. The B-Series withered, and Mazda could do little to help its truck.
The 2010 Ford Ranger, which went into production at the start of the month, features new safety equipment but it’s officially scheduled to be phased out by 2011 and Ford hasn’t said what, if anything, will replace it.
Ford and Mazda share the Ranger platform around the globe, but outside of the U.S. it’s based on Ford’s Thai-built Ranger that shares only its name with the U.S. Ranger. A new global Ranger is currently being developed (code-named T6) and it’s expected that Mazda will continue to sell its pickups outside the U.S. on that platform.
With the continued decline in compact trucks sales, despite last year’s spike in fuel prices, it’s doubtful we’ll see another Mazda-badged pickup in the U.S. any time soon, if ever, because of the chicken tax. The Mazda B-Series isn’t the only small Japanese pickup that's vanished from the U.S. Mitsubishi and Isuzu have also left or announced plans to leave the segment during the past year.