By on November 26, 2012

The words “Mazda” and “premium” will be forever linked with the stillborn Amati brand in the mind of car enthusiasts. Cancelled at the 11th hour, Amati was supposed to be Mazda’s luxury brand that would go head to head with Infiniti, Lexus and Acura. All we got out of it was the Millenia.

With the launch of the 2014 Mazda6, the last independent Japanese auto maker will be attempting another move towards becoming a “premium” auto maker, though Mazda is not looking to compete with other luxury auto makers. According to Automotive News, company officials call their aspirations “Japan premium” (thankfully, this won’t join Skyactiv as their latest marketing moniker), but the motivation behind it seems simple; build cars more desirable than the other mainstream brands, but stay within that space.

The new Kodo design language, diesel engines, advanced active safety systems and strong build quality (Mazda ranked 4th in the latest Consumer Reports reliability study, behind Toyota, Scion and Lexus) will be the pillars of the new philosophy. The target is 400,000 units annually in the United States by 2016, up from 228,000 through October of this year.

As well regarded as Mazda’s cars may be by enthusiasts, they’ve never caught on with the wider public. The previous crop of cars may have been a joy to drive, but the gaping front ends and substandard interiors doomed them in a field filled with equally competitive Japanese and Korean entries. The CX-5 is a strong indicator that Mazda has figured things out, but the upcoming Mazda6 and Mazda3 have to be even stronger for consumers to even consider them over the usual Camry, Civic or Korean alternative.

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49 Comments on “Mazda Tries To Move Up, Sans Amati...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Mazda aside, I keep reading about how every brands needs to or is trying to ‘move upmarket’. Every brand cannot successfully accomplish this, even if the bread and butter brands introduce new features they simply raise the bar for other similar competitors. In my mind ‘movin’ on up’ equates to being as desirable as other premium brands, not simply improving the ground floor for your own brand class.

    • 0 avatar
      missinginvlissingen

      I suspect this is Mazda’s way of saying, “We cannot compete with the big carmakers on production costs. So when our midsize sedan is priced slightly higher than the AccordCamryFusionMalibuSonata, we pray that consumers will perceive us to be slightly more ‘premium’ than those other brands. Wish us luck.”

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Somehow a certain irrelevant South Park phrase regarding whales and dolphins crept into my head as I read this.

        Good luck Mazda, keep fighting that inevitable takeover bid.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        Anyone who calls Mazda’s interior “substandard” has never experienced the last gen Toyota Camry, current gen Scion FR-S, current gen Subaru Impreza, current gen VW Jetta, current gen Toyota Corolla, current gen Honda Civic, current gen Honda Insight, current gen Kia Soul, current gen Scion X-whatever, etc. etc. etc.

        What a sham of a statement. Mazda, price points being equal, probably produces some of the best interiors in any cars today.

    • 0 avatar
      L'avventura

      “Upmarket” for Mazda means they just want to charge more for their cars, like the Mazda 6, than Camry/Accord. Its not trying to be a Lexus or even an Acura.

      Mazda is doing this out of necessity.

      As Mazda no longer makes the 6 in Flint Rock, Michigan, it can’t price their car as cheaply as rivals with North American production. This means it has to send in cars from Hiroshima.

      This means the Mazda 6 is hurt by the double-whammy of the high-yen and higher logistic costs. To justify a higher transaction price, Mazda wants to move the 6 “upscale” by adding to right features to offset the value proposition. Mazda will eventually move production to North America as it has laid out plans, which is the only way it’ll hit its 400k target.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Maybe to justify a slightly higher price point they should point out their Japanese cars are built in Japan while Camcords are not? By this fact alone I’m sold over a Toyonda.

      • 0 avatar
        L'avventura

        For Mazda, I don’t think the trumpeting the country of origin would be to its advantage. Soon the Mazda 2/3 will be made in Mexico after-all, and I’m guessing Mazda wants to move the production of the 6 to North America in the mid-term.

        But the last-gen Mazda 6 used to be made in America, while its sister-car, the Ford Fusion, was made in Mexico. Consumers didn’t really seem to care or notice either way.

        For Europe, Mazda eventually may rely more on Vladivostok production of the Mazda 6 by Sollers down the road. And shipped across Europe via the Trans-Siberian Railway.

        Mazda is FAR behind the other Japanese brands in international production capacity. Expect more Toyota-Mazda deals like we’ve seen in Mexico.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Perhaps you’re right, my my consumers don’t even look at the labels on the products they buy now do they?

      • 0 avatar

        Flint Rock… I like that!

      • 0 avatar
        L'avventura

        @Colin

        Yes, yes, Flat rock. Funny how the mind works.

  • avatar
    Mr. K

    Is there something late 1950′s Dodge like in that big kinda square grill? Or am I just misrecalling my dads car when I was a baby?

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I wish Mazda would stop overdoing their fender lines. It’s too curvy to look “premium.”

  • avatar

    I still have my 2000 Millenia S (“Millenium Edition”!), a very nice-looking car that is ideal for long-distance driving. The Amati stillbirth clearly traumatized Mazda as they had no clue what to do with the Millenia except stick it in a Mazda showroom and hope for the best since they never really attempted to market the car (or even change it)in any discernable way over its lifetime. The new Mazda6 looks terrific and I am sure that it will not depreciate the way the Millenia did!

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      “2000 Millenia S (“Millenium Edition”!)”

      Yeah, it would have helped if Mazda had learned how to spell too…

      Wouldn’t they need a Mazda 9 as a true 929 replacement to really go upscale? Oddly, Lincoln and Mazda could use a big RWD flagship, and Ford and Mazda historically had ties, until recently.

      If they had a Mazda 9, they could make a Mazda 10 as a wagon.

      And then they’d have to make an RX-8 replacement called the 11. The ad campaign would be built in for that, a la Spinal Tap: “This one zoom-zoom-zooms to 11!”

  • avatar
    chaparral

    The RX-8 would’ve gone over better at twice the price – with no changes.

    Random engine failures are completely acceptable in a $60,000 car (Porsche, BMW).

    Unique styling hinders mass-market success, but a distinctive look helps in the premium market; each manufacturer there builds cars that don’t look like the others.

    The handling balance would’ve been savored and the lack of V8-eating speed explained away a lot easier.

    Finally, 18 MPG would’ve been completely acceptable for a four-seater.

  • avatar
    Chicago Dude

    It’s certainly possible, the Mazda I owned a few years ago was a well-built car that felt great on the road at any speed. All it needed was an upgraded interior and more sound insulation. Ford managed to do it, so can Mazda.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      Sound insulation is something to keep an eye on with the new 6. I read a few “first drives” from the Paris auto show stating road noise levels were almost shockingly high.

      This came with the disclaimer that Mazda engineers reminded everyone it was a pre-production unit, and they were still making changes. I’m not optimistic. If your brand has been criticized for a particular weakness in the past, why put your new model in the hands of the press without addressing it, unless you aren’t planning on addressing it?

  • avatar
    snakebit

    Please don’t mention Millenia and Mazda in the same breath. It may have its fans, but after spending one weekend in a new one driving around Wash DC ten years ago, to me it was Mazda’s only recent low point. As far as moving up scale, The last, and present, version of the Mazda3 is already fairly upscale, to me. If Mazda wants to really gore Honda’s ox, their dealers should park nearly new Civic four doors next to a new Mazda3. If the Mazda6 is trimmed as well as the 3, a lot more folks will be shopping it along with Accords and Camrys. To me, Mazda has already done the heavy lifting to upgrade their cars, they just need to let the buying public aware of what they’ve been up to.

  • avatar
    bziko98

    With every release of the new model someone at Mazda is claiming they are going upscale. Just google the articles of the 2009 Mazda6 debut and you will read the same exact thing. If in fact this is their goal why are Mazda cars still build for economy not luxury? It’s not happening. Xedos/Millennia models were more luxurious but Mazda6 was the step backwards in terms of fit and finish.

  • avatar
    mike978

    I don`t expect them to move “upmarket” any more than having better quality materials in their interiors which is the price to pay for entry nowadays. The full details on the Mazda 6 will come out this week in LA and I would be shocked if the base MSRP for the new 6 is out of line with the mainstream competition (Accord, Fusion, Camry etc).

    As for the 400,000 sales target (which Mazda has said will be done without increasing # of dealers) it is doable if they can get the CX5 and Mazda6 to be as popular as the Mazda 3. That would give them 300-350,000 sales then add in MX5, 2, CX9 and you get the 400,000. I hope for Mazda’s sake the CX5 and Mazda 6 can get to those levels, they seem to be getting much better publicity than their predecessors (CX7 and old Mazda 6).

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    If Mazda aspires to move up-market it will have to address its corrosion and rust-related customer care, at least up here in The Great White North where mountains of road salt are used.

    • 0 avatar
      Lynchenstein

      I live in the Great White North and my ’87 323, ’92 Miata, and ’98 Protege never had any rust issues. I keep hearing about this and I keep wondering where all the rusty Mazdas are…

      • 0 avatar
        Wacko

        My 2003 protege5 was a rust bucket.
        I even got an 500.00 rust protection from mazda when I bought it new. It took less than a year for rust to start showing, Even had rust under the rust proofing….

        Mazda canada told me to complain to the dealer, the dealer told me to talk to mazda canada.

        I after 6 years of nothing but problems, Mazda is now on my black list. Won’t even piss on a mazda even if it is on fire

        The dealer and mazda canada lost me as a client forever with all the crappy service.

      • 0 avatar
        srogers

        Edmonton is awash in rusty Proteges. The Mazda3s are starting to show visible rear fender rust now too. This is what is stopping me from committing to a Mazda3 for my next car- other than the rust it seems to be my perfect match.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        @wacko and srogers. Agree completely. Back 6 or so years ago I was fixing the wheel lips of the Protege5s and now I see the rockers and lips of the 3′s are all popping.

        Some cars have their problem areas, and some are just problems.

      • 0 avatar
        dima

        it is odd. I have 2008 Mazda5 with 100,000.00 miles, and so far “knock on wood” no problems with rust. I’m in New Jersey, planty of salt on roads in winter.

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      hmm. Only rust on my 90 was in the rear of the rockers, which is a drain clogging issue that even southern cars have experienced. It grew up in St. Louis and Watertown, NY.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    “last independent Japanese auto maker”

    Independent of and from what? Independent from being owned by an automotive conglomerate perhaps?

    Independent is such an odd term… The car biz, like life itself, is built upon a series of dependencies…

  • avatar
    redav

    I think people are reading too much into this.

    I get the impression that Mazda wants to focus more on having nice, upscale driver interfaces–no plasticky steering wheels, less hard plastics, no stripped trim levels. The CX-5 definitely seems like a move in that direction (e.g., all trims have push button start). I think most people avoid the stripper trims anyway, so why not save some money by completely cutting out the lowest margin offerings?

    Ford seems to be going the same way, and they are charging higher prices to match. That’s where I expect Mazda wants to be.

    Personally, I’m A-OK with that. I don’t like all the frou-frou nonsense that goes into ‘luxury’ cars, but I don’t like the feeling of ‘cheapness,’ either. I just want high-quality normal stuff.

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Brisbane

    The whole “multiple brands” thing worries me. I have never heard of Amati but I remember Mazda launching an upmarket brand called Eunos. It brought us that cool tiny V6 but the idea was expensive and failed. To me, coming 4th in reliability behind Toyota, Scion an Lexus really means they came second behind Toyota.

    A similar thought surrounds Infiniti sponsoring Red Bull in Formula One. Every F1 fan knows that a Red Bull is powered by Renault. They may be aware that Renault and Nissan are tied together and they may be vaguely aware that Infiniti is a sub brand of Nissan but the links are tenuous. I guess the cars we see as premium Nissans here in Oz such as the Skyline will start to be branded Infiniti as they are in the U.S. I just see dilution of the brand. It was bad for GM no?

  • avatar
    Macca

    This makes sense. Mazda’s lack of a ‘luxury’ marque allows them a certain amount of freedom in the form of available options and standard levels of equipment. They are unencumbered by the need to specifically stratify their offerings, and as such, throw quite a bit of goodies into their cars that are options even in far pricier cars.

    My 2008 Mazda3 GT came with projector xenons, heated leather and rain sensing wipers, all with a sensible MSRP. The Japanese Big 3 struggle with matching features in their primary lineups (Honda is especially guilty of this) because they need some self-imposed differentiation in order to sell people up to the luxury brand.

    As an auto enthusiast, I know I’m not supposed to like unnecessary “fluff” like xenon headlights or automatic wipers, but hey, I like gadgets. If they had found a way to use some more soft-touch materials in my Mazda3 and add a little more sound proofing, it would easily compete in the near-luxury compact segment that is almost entirely occupied by German offerings.

    I mean, VW has occupied this pseudo-luxury segment for years: charging more for their cars despite the lack of ‘luxury’ – replete with nice-looking interiors that don’t hold up and sub-par reliability. Seems like Mazda could easily could easily make a stronger case for that kind of branding.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      The comparison between Mazda and Volkswagen is a good one. The NA Volkswagen Passat has an upscale presence despite all the cost reduction. Good conservative styling that looks good in adult colors. The problem is Volkswagen sells the Passat with an iron block 2 valve per cylinder tractor engine and plastic seats in the mid-level trim. If the Mazda6 combines best-in-class styling with good quality interior materials, good performance, and class-competitive fuel economy, Mazda can charge a price premium in a niche market. On the other hand, to compete in volume with cars like the Camry, Accord, and Altima, Mazda needs a factory in North America and careful cost reduction. The Honda Accord is checking off all the boxes for the nicer than a Camry product, but the exterior shape just doesn’t look quite right. The Mazda6 pictures look better proportioned and therefore more expensive.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        Mazda doesn’t want to be compared to VW. They want to be compared to BMW – small company that makes sporty, driver-oriented cars, upmarket, and able to charge a premium for it.

      • 0 avatar
        tedward

        “mazda doesn’t want to be compared to VW”

        Huh? That is who they have been benchmarking all along, and I see zero overlap with BMW in their portfolio, even their RWD products where you would expect it (those have trended towards competing with other asian brands). The mazda3, until the current focus arrived, was the only car successfully benchmarking the Golf, and arguably delivering a better compromise than VW itself has done. In the US market at least.

        Also disagree with the article’s dig at their interiors. I had a car-guy friend say the same to me recently to my puzzlement, and then I realized that his only experience with the brand was their “fleet trim” below base models (most manufacturers do it). They are definitely very asian, and the merits of that are open to discussion, but they are far ahead of what I can get in a civic, forte, corolla etc… To be honest I still prefer the Mazda3S interior of the last gen to that of the current Elantra, and that’s a huge leap past the above-mentioned cars.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        Benchmarking performance is not the same as brands being compared.

        VW is trying to be the world’s largest automaker. Mazda doesn’t want that. The vision & direction Mazda is trying to go is a Japanese BMW. It’s about the nature of the company, not who their competitors are or market overlap.

  • avatar
    acuraandy

    If anything, automakers need to move ‘downmarket’ with the impending financial collapse; i.e. ‘affordable’. Getting the EPA and USDOT out of the way would help, too.

    I’m talking sub 15k, guys.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Unfortunately going to have to file that request under notgonnahappen.com

      What will probably happen is the sticker prices will rise slowly every year until the full brunt of inflation kicks in, then they’ll jump. In order to compete automakers will being decontenting their model lines so while you might have your 80 air bags and Igadgets in every new car you’ll be getting cheaper steel, cheaper paint, cheaper interiors, cheaper factory brakes/tires etc.

      Pay more and get less, its not a bug its a feature!

      • 0 avatar
        acuraandy

        @28-cars:

        Case in point, my dad bought a new AMC Eagle in 1982 for something like $9k. In 1983 the same car was $13k.

        Stay tuned for $20k base model Accents, guys.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        What cost $9000 in 1982 would cost $20643.37 in 2011.

        Also, if you were to buy exactly the same products in 2011 and 1982,
        they would cost you $9000 and $3801.85 respectively.

        google inflation calculator, its the first one

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        “Case in point, my dad bought a new AMC Eagle in 1982 for something like $9k. In 1983 the same car was $13k.”

        If that claim is true (and note that 1980-1982 had very very high inflation) and I doubt that it is, then the price dropped between 1983 and 1986:

        sticker for a 1982 AMC Eagle 4WD SX-4 (2-door) shows a base price of $7903, and in prior years the wagon was $300-500 higher:
        http://amceaglenest.com/history1982.html

        Popular Mechanics had a 1983 AMC Eagle in its long-term fleet in 1983 (along with the maligned Malaise Cimmaron), but did not tell us the base price:
        http://books.google.com/books?id=itUDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA170&dq=amc+eagle+long-term&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Ol-1UI_6OMmsiQLs3IDgDw&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=amc%20eagle%20long-term&f=false

        base price for a 1986 AMC Eagle was $11,385 according to Popular Mechanics:
        http://books.google.com/books?id=IOQDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA81&dq=amc+eagle+long-term&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Ol-1UI_6OMmsiQLs3IDgDw&ved=0CEEQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=amc%20eagle%20long-term&f=false

        the base price of an AMC Eagle 4-door 4WD for 1987 was just under $13,000:
        http://www.allpar.com/amc/eagle.html

  • avatar
    JLGOLDEN

    Opinion-based: This is a good-looking car. Fact-based: If Mazda’s goal is to position the 6 as a “premium alternative” to the established competition, the rest of the story is all about product excellence, luck, timing, and a damn good marketing campaign.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    I hope it looks as good at the curb as it does on the Interwebs. I want Mazda to hit another homerun from Hiroshima, and we can all celebrate by buying Fighting Carp jerseys.


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