Small automakers balancing vision, reality

For small companies such as Tesla, Subaru and Mazda, strategy is about reconciling vision and reality. Every day. Every quarter.

Tesla’s losses and production struggles with its mass-market car haven’t deterred it from pursuing its all-electric and electric-for-all vision. But the obstacles have led it to embrace a larger vision for the company that incorporates battery production, solar panels, power generation equipment, energy storage systems — enough to amass the scale it needs to make cars profitably.

True to its Silicon Valley roots, it keeps pushing the envelope in autonomous technology, even if that means using its customers to beta test software and alienating more conservative technology partners.

Subaru, for its part, isn’t out to change the world. It’s happy to be a better version of itself. Its autonomous strategy amounts to rolling out more sophisticated driver-assistance safety features, and it’s preparing for tougher fuel economy requirements with a modular global platform that can support gasoline, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and all-electric drivetrains.

Subaru is fortunate to have part-owner Toyota on speed dial. It has paired with the giant on low-volume vehicles and said it may want to take part in a budding Toyota-Mazda EV partnership.

Mazda, too, will be able to call on partner Toyota to help with any heavy lifting on autonomous technology or electrification. But for now, its answer to the big changes sweeping the industry has been proud defiance. Rather than promise a raft of EVs, it is still trying to perfect the internal combustion engine. And Mazda sees autonomous technology as an emergency backup rather than a way of life.