By on January 31, 2013

If you were to read certain outlets, you may have the mistaken impression that Mazda is making a move upmarket. More than one industry gadfly took Mazda CEO Takashi Yamanouchi’s assertion that he wants to see Mazda become a “premium” brand as evidence of managerial incompetence. How could the world’s last independent auto maker have the gall to gun for the Germans and upscale Japanese marques when they are currently a bit player in the global auto sector?

The first and most obvious answer is that Yamanouchi’s words were taken out of context. Nowhere did Yamanouchi say anything about a move upmarket. Mazda won’t even be positioning itself as such in their marketing campaigns.

If that isn’t explicit enough, here’s Yamanouchi’s own words on the “premium” shift, while speaking to Automotive News.

“That’s how we aim to be like a premium…Broadly speaking, it is not to rely on discounts but to have consumers appreciate the value of the product.”

What Yamanouchi did state is that he is aiming for sales of 400,000 units by the end of March, 2016 – a 43 percent boost for Mazda in its biggest market. Mazda is looking to do that by going in the direction that every “car guy” would appreciate – making their cars more involving to drive, with better interiors, distinctive styling and eschewing hybrid technology in favor of diesels and efficient gasoline engines.

That may sound elementary for most Monday Morning Auto Execs, but Mazda is in a unique position, as the last independent mainstream auto maker. Their global sales volume rests somewhere around 1.3 million units – Honda, another relatively small player, sold 1.4 million vehicles in the United States alone in 2012. If you believe Sergio Marchionne’s insistence that 6 million units annually is the minimum scale needed to survive in the current marketplace, then Mazda’s prospects look dim.

On the other hand, being small allows Mazda the kind of autonomy that’s not possible within the context of an auto conglomerate; previous Mazda products, as good as they were, were compromised due to having to share a platform with Ford vehicles. This manifested itself less in the overall quality of the car and more in certain engineering and manufacturing decisions, such as the design of the chassis to accommodate powertrains that were employed across the entire Ford Group. Added weight and a more complex and expensive manufacturing process were two negatives that resulted from this arrangement.

The current generation of Mazda shares nothing with any Ford product; the new Mazda6 rides on an all-new scalable platform made for C and D-segment cars as well as SUVs and crossovers in that size class. That means that the CX-5, the Mazda6, next-gen Mazda3 and whatever replaces the Ford-based CX-9 will all ride on the same architecture. And while driving impressions of the Mazda6 are embargoed until Monday, the CX-5′s excellent driving dynamics and up-to-date suite of both passive and active safety features are positive signs for Mazda as far as the viability of their future product is concerned.

In other segments, Mazda has been astute with forging alliances to help ease the burdens that come with being a smaller player; the next MX-5 will be built in association with Fiat, while their B-segment car will be built alongside Toyota at their new Mexican factory. Interestingly, the Toyota vehicle will be derived from the Mazda2, another Mazda vehicle that has garnered significant attention from the enthusiast media but sold poorly. Meanwhile, Toyota’s own Yaris has neither sold well nor been warmly received by the automotive press.

So far, Mazda’s key mis-step has been with the marketing of their Skyactv technologies; at the Mazda6 press briefing, engineers went on a labored and detailed explanation of what Skyactiv really is – a way of engineering cars to be lighter and more efficient without sacrificing driving dynamics. Unfortunately, the message is beyond muddled and the moniker is so dumb that it could have only been cooked up in a boardroom in Japan. If a cadre of die-hard car types needed a lengthy lecture on Skyactiv, one can only imagine how unpleasant it must be to explain to dealers or consumers.

As far as Mazda’s “premium” push is concerned, the CX-5 is a promising start, but the Mazda6, which serves as the brand’s flagship product, will be the real test, competing in what might be the most competitive segment in America’s auto market. But you’ll have to check back Monday for TTAC’s take.

 

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85 Comments on “Analysis: Mazda And The Perils Of Being Premium...”


  • avatar
    Quentin

    I saw the new 6 at a local autoshow. Stunning in person. The Fusion may be prettier in photos, but the 6 looks cohesive and bold instead of looking like an Aston that can’t cash the “fast” checks that overstyled face is writing.

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      I agree, the new 6 has a cohesive design (as does the Passat and Accord). The fusion has a great front end but the sides are certainly a letdown.
      I am waiting to see the 6 in the flesh at my local annual auto show in 2 weeks.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        Mazda and Volkswagen are the only mass produced affordable vehicles sold in the U.S. that provide the end buyer with truly interesting vehicles, designed around a core principle of driving dynamics, with best-in-class interior quality & truly sorted out suspension design.

        The former also is now the 2nd most reliable vehicle make according to Consumer Reports (after Toyota, including Scion), while Volkswagen has improved in this regard as of late, but is still below average (although the Passat, Golf/Rabbit and Jetta Sportwagon with the 2.5 liter 5 cylinder are above average).

        Mazda is the most underrated manufacturer in existence, IMO. It’s core “goodness” and sound engineering principles will ensure its long term viability.

        In fact, I anticipate many much larger manufacturers will be eager to enter into partnerships with Mazda to tap into Mazda’s expertise in chassis and suspension know-how (as Toyota has recently).

        • 0 avatar
          Autoboy

          Great points DeadWeight. As a recent shopper for a midsize, I had never considered Mazda. My needs were rather broad. I started out looking at the new VW Passat and Tiguan, which I loved. However, my need for a reliable car soon took any VW off the list.

          I considered Ford products, but their reliability and MyTouch crossed them off. Frankly I was open to a wide variety of vehicles…except for anything with a CVT. Such a shame because the Subaru Legacy and Outback would have been on my short list. Same with the Accord 4-cylinder.

          Mazda was a breath of fresh air. I really do understand Mazda’s desire for their brand to be considered premium. Premium has nothing to do with upscale, price, or features. It has everything to do with reliability, quality, and drivability.

          I recently drove a Mazda6 and a CX-5. What a revelation. If it wasn’t for excessive wind noise coming from the driver’s window/mirror area, my search would have ended and checkbook out. I also love the CX-5…a much better offering than the Honda CRV and Toyota RAV4.

          After driving Mazda products, they need to do some minor things to truly capture that Premium moniker.

          1. Better Soundproofing (at the cost of some MPG)

          2. Better option choices at all price levels

          A friend recently priced a new Mazda3. She loved the car, but loaded-up it was over $30,000. That’s just wrong. For the same money you can get a well-equipped Accord V6.

          Many have criticized the Mazda6′s nav system, especially size. Frankly I don’t care about the Nav, so this is a non-issue to me. VW has the same criticism too. However in a trek to 100,000 miles, a VW will cost at least 10x in maintenance over any Mazda.

          I’m going to revisit the 2015 Mazda6 when it hits in March. Hopefully they will have sorted out their wind noise issues. If they do, I’m there! But my short time driving Mazda’s, I understand what they mean by premium.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        @ DeadWeight – Mazda has historically done steering very well too, though I haven’t tried any of their newer EPS systems.

        I’m a Mazda fan myself, and the only time I bought new it was a Mazda. That said, they always seem to have an Achilles’s heel.

        Gas mileage and goofy looks have been historical weaknesses. Fortunately they are solving both of those with their new products. Rust has been an issue for them, not sure if it still is.

        NVH has been another weak point, and it’s one I’m worried about with the new 6.

        • 0 avatar
          DeadWeight

          I agree with you & autoboy – NVH is a hallmark weakness of most Mazda products, at least relative to the best of the mainstream, volume makes.

          In some cases, it’s a worthwhile tradeoff when it is the result of dialing in feel and responsive handling, IMO, but in other cases, there’s not a significant benefit to be had.

          I’ve often wondered why Mazda doesn’t or won’t do a better job of utilizing foam in pillars, things like “quiet steel,” and some of the other tricks of the trade to reduce NVH that Ford, Toyota, GM, FiaChrysler, etc. have.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    I’m in the market right now for a small SUV, and of course I went to see the CX5. Drove it, liked it, and then started to ask about price.

    The salesperson immediately chirped: “The price will be MSRP plus an offer you make”.

    Wow! I immediately continued to investigate other SUVs.

    • 0 avatar
      CoastieLenn

      Sounds to me like that dealer is thinking that they’re better than most. I’d source another dealer if you’re set on a CX-5. The dealer near me is pricing them without rebates or discounts (obiously) but they’re more than willing to enter into negotiations.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      To me that is simply a reason to look to other dealerships, not other cars. Completely obnoxious.

      Nice avatar! That is actually me in the Trabbi in mine, I owned that car for the summer of ’91 in Budapest.

      As for Mazda, I am glad they seem to be making thier cars less goofy looking, and hope they make it. I see them as premium in the same way that VW is premium. A little nicer than the mainstream for a little more money.

    • 0 avatar
      lowsodium

      You must have a terrible dealer there. Who asks more than MSRP for a car thats in the most competitive segment ever?

    • 0 avatar
      Truckducken

      Dude! That reminds me – I happened to tour a Chevy dealer’s lot a few weeks ago and was astonished to see ADM stickers next to the factory stickers on Cruzes and Malibus. We’re not exactly talking about embargoed 1980′s Toyondas here. I do not see the logic of the extra markup based on sales/capacity; am guessing it is simply a way to make the sort of buyer who does no research whatsoever feel like she/he is getting a bigger discount when they close the deal. It’s hard to like dealers sometimes.
      Which brings me back to your situation: don’t let one crappy salesman/dealer ruin your search or drive you toward a car you don’t really want. Get online and find a dealer who will work with you.

    • 0 avatar
      jpolicke

      I would have offered to hold his coat while he crammed it up his butt. There are too many choices out there to have to play this “pretty please sell me one” nonsense.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      There’s a dealer near me that does this for Subarus too. They claim their average sale on some Subaru models is $X,000 above MSRP and will send closer after closer for their non-sense prices. It’s BS. People in the know go down the street to another dealer nearby, and those guys are negotiating for real.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        I remember a Honda dealer did something similar on their brand new Civic SI. With the comical result that their newest wonder ended up almost identical in lease cost to an M3 :) I guess there’s a buyer for almost anything.

        Or a Chevy dealer quoting a price that made their lease about the same as a 911, then being called on it replying “Yeah, but this is a Corvette…”

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        Not that I tried, but I heard those guys also wouldn’t let you test-drive an STI without putting a deposit down. I believe the deposit was technically refundable if you weren’t satisfied. The rationale was that otherwise all kinds of non-buying fanbois would run up the mileage on a rare vehicle, which is probably also true. But there are several legit buyers who were probably discouraged.

        I wasn’t even there for a Subaru, but they sent closer after closer when I was making an offer on something used from them. Their price was well above market, and they gave me some BS about how it was market, even though I could point to 10 cars on the Internet within 30 miles that were similarly equipped and several thousand cheaper.

        One of the higher-up manager guys expressed a great deal of shock that I, as a civilian, knew what the car was going for on Manheim, when I called him on his BS about how the price he bought it for at auction was higher than what I offered.

  • avatar
    gmichaelj

    “as the last independent mainstream auto maker”
    Could someone explain what that means?
    Independent of what/whom?
    Are Ford, Toyota, et.al. “dependent”?
    Is Mazda the only AAA ball team left?

    • 0 avatar
      Brian E

      I think it’s supposed to be like “indie” record labels: no formal definition, but you know it when you see it.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      I was thinking there was at least one other independent Japanese mainstream automaker, who has virtually no other tie-ups with other automakers… Five letters, begins with H…

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        It would be good if BS could cover Honda, Mazda and Subaru more since he is Japanese based. We get a lot of Toyota news, I know they are the largest, but it does seem to crowd out the other 3. He has visited special facilities of Toyota’s could not the same be done for the other 3?

      • 0 avatar

        A non-Toyota inside story will come soon, when I have time to write it. Something about engines.

        Also, keep in mind that Mazda is in Hiroshima, 500 miles away from where I am, and being there many times is a prerequisite for these stories. There are a lot of interesting factories very close to me, let’s do those first.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        Great to hear Bertel. I hope some of those nearby factories are non-Toyota ones because it seems a lot of what you write is GM/Opel/Toyota and they “only” make have a combined 20% (or so) market share.

        Although your VW pieces, especially with the inside knowledge are great.

      • 0 avatar
        tankd0g

        Honda is a publicly held company.

    • 0 avatar
      tankd0g

      Mazda is a privately held company, not publicly traded like the rest of them.

  • avatar
    redav

    I disagree on the “SkyActiv” moniker.

    The only folks who have any problem with it are auto writers. Salesmen have no problem simply explaining it. The general public may not know what all is involved, but that’s true of every single car trademark. Most people don’t know exactly what “Ecoboost” is, either, but that hasn’t stopped Ford from selling a ton of them. Considering how well CX-5 & Mazda3 have sold in the last year, it seems to be just fine.

    • 0 avatar
      CoastieLenn

      Its the (mainstream) media’s job say “Molehill?? BOOOOMMMM! Now its a mountain.”.

      It prompts readers/clickers to see what all the hub-bub is about, even if its really no that big of a deal. It’ll be described in a fashion that paints it in a light that appears much larger than it really is. This, I’m sure you know.

      I’ve never heard anyone saying that they don’t understand what SkyActiv/Ecoboost/Vtec/VVT-i/etc. is, so they won’t look at the car.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      The problem with “skyactiv” is that, unlike “ecoboost”, it doesn’t say anything at all. “Ecoboost” at least has “eco” in it, which suggests good for the environment, blah,blah. And “boost” which means “more of it.”

      “Skyactive” is a mash-up of “sky” and “active.” What does either of those words say in the context of an automobile?

      “VVT,””VVT-L,” “VANOS” and the like are at least acronyms made from the first letters of words that actually mean something (although not always in English).

      But “skyactiv” means nothing, except that it’s a neologism applied to certain Mazda engine and powertrain components.

    • 0 avatar
      schmitt trigger

      Japanese manufacturers are famous for coming up with corny names for otherwise outstanding technology.

      Honda has -and I forget the exact name- something called “earth dreams”?

    • 0 avatar
      Stumpaster

      You’re correct. I always think about the trukote reference in Fargo the movie. It’s just another pile of BS that the salesmen have to unload on the customer.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      I agree… SkyActiv is easy to explain. The cars are made environmentally friendly but also fun to drive, compared to their competitors.

      Ecoboost is no less complicated to explain. And most other technologies aren’t even heavily marketed.

    • 0 avatar
      Tosh

      I have a problem with ‘SkyActiv’ as it is nothing more than a green wash that new-school marketers dreamed up. Mazda should be promoting their own racing heritage and manufacturing and technology leadership as ‘Mazda’ while they still have time, not looking for cutesy tag lines or irrelevant evocative buzz words. And return to some tasteful timeless styling: How about hiring a professional designer instead of that wind-eroded creases and sickening fun-house mirrors look…
      And put a squareback hatch on the Miata already — I’d like to be able to take myself and a bike somewhere…

      • 0 avatar
        johnny ro

        Ecoboost is very easy to explain.

        “Ford needed better gas mileage. The quick and easy way to do that was to copy VW’s small turbo engine approach. They had to call it something. EcoBoost. And um VW did not invent the small turbo, just made it popular in the US.”

  • avatar
    mike978

    Derek, many thanks for the article. It is great to know that on Monday test drive impressions will be made public. I really want Mazda to succeed and the 6 is a car I am looking closely at (along with the Accord) to replace my Legacy wagon.

    However I find Mazda’s marketing efforts to be baffling. They have had new 2014 Mazda’6 in the showroom (and sold since 2nd January) for over a month but no configurator on the website (just a “reserve yours”. They have had no test drive impressions in Edmunds, Autoguide etc. It is normal practice (Accord and ATS last year are examples) for a company to release a car, then have a combined blitz of driving impressions released on a set day and the configurator goes live. I didn`t like the way Ford did the Fusion launch with having the “build yours” up months before the car was available, but Mazda has gone to the other extreme of having no “build yours” up even when the car has been out for a month. I don`t know any other manufacturer that has done that.

    Mazda also have a problem with plenty of 2013′s still available and I have seen upto $5000 off a $23K car. They have by some estimates a 100 days supply, since the 2013 6 sold poorly. Just like the fair criticism of GM with their truck inventory prior to the new 2014′s, Mazda is in the same position.

    Also I recall last year Mazda made redundant a significant number of their US based HQ staff. I would think cutting marketing staff and others has had an impact on the smooth roll out of the new 6 – or it was a strategic error. We have had articles about the Dart’s botched launch. I would wager that the 6 is right up there too. I recall GM getting criticism for cutting a few R&D positions last year with a TTAC article.

    I look forward to Monday and hope the 6 is as good as it sounds from European reviews and reviews from people who have already bought one in the US.

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      Glad I’ not the only one waiting for the ‘Build your own’ to go live with the Mazda 6. Yeah- the roll out of the 6 has been kind of baffling. But I’ll say that the most baffling is their decision to put the diesel engine into the 6 instead of the CX5. They’ve been selling the diesel CX5 in Japan for almost a year already, and it’s been selling very well. Mazda would have the whole market segment to itself since there are no other diesel CUVs on the market. But instead they chose to put the diesel engine into the Mazda 6, and now they have to compete head on with the estalished segment leaders – the Passat and the Jetta.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        I thought there were going to put the diesel in the CX5 at some point. For the 6 it will be around September, which will be the first model. Hopefully the CX5 would follow shortly after.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        After talking to the corporate folks at the local unveil of the 6 & reading between the lines, my impressions:
        - They have limited resources which have been working like mad just to get the 6 & the 2.5L engine out on time. They actually missed, which is why they had to put display-only models in showrooms before they were taking orders. They’ve also been vacillating on the issue of the manual in the Touring trim level. This explains why the website isn’t running yet.
        - The diesel isn’t ready yet. The racing team got their engines only two weeks ago, and they were the first ones off the line. Considering the race results, they’re still working on the US version, so it isn’t ready for production yet. Yes, the rest of the world has them, but our formulation of diesel is different (as well as regulations), so they aren’t exactly the same engines. I’m actually glad they are being race tested prior to hitting the streets. They said to expect 42-43 EPA hwy for the diesel, which is a hair lower than I expected.
        - They said that putting the diesel in the US CX-5 would be dependent on its success in the 6 (earliest would be for 2014 MY, but 2015 is more likely). It’s a risky move, so that makes sense, but I suspect all their manpower has been devoted to other updates (6, 3, Miata), which didn’t leave them resources to put it in the CX-5 this year. I don’t fault the strategy–the CX-5 got an upgraded engine in the 2.5L, so its need for more power is momentarily satiated. The 6′s base engine is the 2.5L, and it won’t get a V6, so that leaves only the diesel as an upgrade. It will only be available in the Grand Touring, just like the V6 was. I suspect they have a production capacity limitation, so limiting the places it can go would prevent it from becoming an issue.
        - They also mentioned that the CX-9 will get the diesel. While the diesel in the CX-5 is still a maybe, they sounded definite on that one.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        Thanks Redav for the information, it all makes sense. I was not concerned about the diesel launch and a September timing seemed reasonable. The mpg data is interesting, so it will officially be 5-7% more efficient than the VW diesel at highway. I agree that race testing them makes sense.

        I just don`t buy the launch issue though, Canada and the UK launched at the same time and they have websites that function. The US is a more important market in terms of volume so I would have thought priority would have been given here. Also how difficult would it be for them to have a configurator ready? The 6 is a core vehicle so should be at the top of their list along with the new 3 later this year and the CX5.

        I agree with james2 that Mazda’s advertising (or lack) of is an issue. It seems like they made a mistake in getting rid of so many HQ staff last year to save money. You don`t make money if people don`t know your car exists.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        Mazdausa’s website is basically hosed right now, so hopefully the “maintenance” they are performing is adding the Build Your Own for the new 6.

      • 0 avatar
        Autoboy

        Wow, great point! A diesel in the CX-5 would do wonders for sales. I don’t believe that any US crossover has a diesel, even the reliability horror show VW Tiguan. The Mazda6 already gets fantastic gas mileage…and even better if you choose to break the bank and opt for e-iloop. A diesel is nice I guess, but not needed. However, a diesel in the CX-5 and the CX-9 would be huge for their sales.

    • 0 avatar
      James2

      @mike978

      Mazda North America wouldn’t know how to launch a car if a gun was pointed at their collective heads. They really need to get rid of their entire marketing department.

      The current 6 was also launched poorly with the stupidest advertising possible (as a Roman gladiator? Really?) and they never tried to correct that even as the car didn’t sell. The 5 isn’t supported at all with advertising. They re-run the same old 3 ads over and over. And they must hope that people remember the Miata since that car doesn’t get any ad love anymore.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        The other thing I forgot to add in my reply to Redav is even if they were short of resource – why would there be an embargo on publication test drives for 5 weeks AFTER the car has actually gone and sale? That is just backwards and I have never heard of that happening before. The embargo is usually lifted some time before sale (a few weeks to a few months).

  • avatar
    Chicago Dude

    “And while driving impressions of the Mazda6 are embargoed until Monday”

    Thanks for the info; I’ll be looking forward to seeing them on Monday.

    It would be really nice if TTAC added a small “Embargo Dates” section on the site – any time you guys get wind of an embargo, just add the topic and the date – no need for comments or anything.

  • avatar
    mike978

    I am glad Derek made the point that Mazda never intended by their “premium” comments to mean they were trying to be BMW. They will be a mainstream manufacturer, at mainstream prices but with cars that are a little different. They should be applauded for giving people a choice of having a reliable car that is fun, rather than just a reliable car (aka the Camry).

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Make a Mazda 9 as an Avalon-sized product that has involving driving characteristics! To go head-to-head against the Malibu/Impala.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      I’ve already suggested that they should have a Mazda 9 as the new big car (since they already had the 929 and its relatives), and that way the Mazda 10 could be the wagon, and the new RX-replacement would be the Mazda 11.

      The Spinal Tap-esque ad campaign writes itself: “This one zoom-zoom-zooms to 11!”

  • avatar
    pCSCO

    Just bought a CX5 over Christmas and I friggen love it (I had been looking at small trucks). I was concerned about the low HP numbers since I have to climb over 2,000ft each night to get home (6,500ft-8,600ft) but the car is great; drives like it has 30 more hp due to the “Skyactive” stuff. I would argue the interior of the Grand Touring is on par with or better than a Bimmer X3; much simpler and easy to use but looks amazing.

    As far as price negotiating, they were pretty firm with MSRP since they are selling faster than they can order them in Colorado so there is not much incentive to budge. But, we were able to get them to throw in a couple extras like a hitch and remote start.

    I’ve been telling all my friends who are interested in Bimmers to pick which one they like and then go check out the Mazda equivalent. I do wish we had the diesel version here in the states but no complaints about this one!

    Now if only Mazda could bring a small turbo diesel truck to the US since the new Ford Ranger isn’t coming here…

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      I think the CX-5 is the best vehicle in its segment by a wide margin for people who care about things such as steering feel, suspension design, reliability, fuel economy and interior quality.

      I am not a fan of CUVs, but if I were in the market for one, it’d be the CX-5 hands down.

      That it can be had with a manual transmission for approx 20k is icing on the cake.

  • avatar
    snakebit

    Here, here. I, too saw two examples of the new Mazda6 in Boston at the local auto show. If ACC/CAM buyers don’t look at the 6, they’re cheating themselves. After looking at both 6′s at the show, I immediately walked over to the Honda display as well as the Ford Fusion display. Choosing top dog among these cars won’t be easy. As for Mazda hoping their new 6 will be considered upscale, it’s neither upscale nor inferior to the latest Accord and Camry. Personally, there’s no rational reason that one car has an edge here. They’re all reliable, a buyer is going to have to choose which one looks best, or which one has the nicest interior. You could be blindfolded, choose one, and really not go wrong.

    I will say that to me, the current Mazda3 seems one premium step above the latest Civic, but Honda won’t let that go unanswered.

    As for the one Mazda dealer who acted like a jerk, as has been suggested before, drive on down the road to another one. They’re NOT all the same.

  • avatar
    mike978

    Will Jack B be testing the new 6 at Laguna Seca, just like he did with the CX5??

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “The first and most obvious answer is that Yamanouchi’s words were taken out of context.”

    If his columns provide a fair representation of who he is, then one must conclude that De Lorenzo is a bit of a self-absorbed hothead. It’s pretty obvious from his quote that Yamanouchi is trying to niche the mainstream auto market via a technology angle in order to support a reasonable price point, not targeting Mercedes and BMW.

    That doesn’t mean that this is going to work. Mazda has spent its entire existence taking this approach, and has generally flailed with it. First, it was the rotary, which put it on the map but then almost helped to destroy it. Then, it was the Miller cycle engine, which nobody cared about. And now, it’s SkyActiv, which is poorly named because it doesn’t tell you anything about what it is or why you should want it.

    But irrespective of the name, Mazda’s ongoing efforts to distinguish itself through technology are proof that it’s tough to teach an old dog new tricks. Even though their own history should make it clear that it’s a bad approach, they keep doing it, anyway.

    Usually, the best way to niche the car market is by using some sort of lifestyle message, coupled with design language that supports that message. Brands such as MINI and Subaru have figured this out, and have done well enough. But Mazda more closely resembles Saab than MINI, and we all know how that turned out.

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      I agree with you about the technology angle, but Mazda have also tried to differentiate themselves through “driving fun” or “zoom-zoom” as they call it. Here they have had success, the MX5 is very well regarded even 20 years later. The Mazda 3 is held up as the gold standard of the compact class for driving fun even though it is one of the oldest compacts around. Mazda also sells substantially more vehicles than SAAB ever did so the comparison is not fair.
      The 400,000 target for 2016 is easily achievable if the CX5 and Mazda 6 perform as intended, with sales around 100,000 units. This would give them comparable volume to the Mazda 3 which shows the dealer network is big enough. If all three core vehicles (3, 6 and CX5) sold at that rate then only 40,000 units would be needed from the 2, 5, MX5 and CX9 and that is easily achieved now. So 450,000 is certainly doable.
      They should have called this new 6 the 2013 model, because by calling it the 2014 they have an 18-21 month model year, with an engine upgrade (the diesel) part way through the model year. Much cleaner to have had a nine month 2013 model year then in September have the diesel and have a 2014 model for a year.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “Mazda also sells substantially more vehicles than SAAB ever did so the comparison is not fair.”

        You obviously missed the point of the Saab comparison.

        If a company is going to focus on a niche, then it has to give the niche something that the niche wants.

        Mazda is a stereotypical engineering-driven company that suffers from all of that flaws that that implies. Instead of being market driven, it is design-driven — it invents stuff, then expects you to want it simply because it’s there.

        That’s a recipe for failure. The consumer doesn’t care about some engineer feeling proud of himself for inventing something new. The consumer has to want it for his own selfish reasons, and this is something that Mazda has missed time and time again.

        That’s a shame, because they do make good driver’s cars, and I’d really like to see them survive. But the odds that they’ll be here in 20-30 years are lower than that they won’t.

      • 0 avatar
        MZ3AUTOXR

        “That’s a shame, because they do make good driver’s cars, ”

        Wouldn’t that be your missing niche?

        There are people out there that actually enjoy the physical act of driving.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        I understand the SAAB point, but you could easily say the same for Subaru. Subaru has unfortunaelty moved on from its original “lifestyle” market and if you look at the current Legacy it is a mediocre midsize car which if you don`t need AWD has no compelling reason to buy.

        “If a company is going to focus on a niche, then it has to give the niche something that the niche wants.” Are you saying Mazda does give the niche, auto enthusiasts, something? What about driving fun – Mazda is well acknowledged as being a company that consistently builds cars that are fun to drive, for their segment.

        Mazda is engineer driven, and I have criticized above some of their marketing missteps with this launch. However they do make cars people want to buy. The Mazda 3 is a popular compact car. The CX5 seems like it is on its way, from professional reviews, to being a solid contender to the RAV4 and CRV.
        Mazda have been customer driven with their whole “Skyactive” approach. Regardless of the name it has, they have focused on fuel economy which is a customer concern. Such that the new 6 has the second best overall fuel economy (only 1 city mpg less than the Altima, same highway). They have done this no through the use of turbos, or CVT’s but solid engineering advances and light weight vehicles. That takes an engineers attention to detail.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “Wouldn’t that be your missing niche?”

        That is not a viable niche for a mainstream automaker.

        It can work with premium cars (“The Ultimate Driving Machine”) and with exotics, but they don’t need to sell in volume. A mainstream marketer needs more volume to survive because of the lower price points, and there aren’t enough customers to make it work. Some kind of special sauce is required, and being zippy just isn’t enough to cut it.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        PCH – I agree with your comment at 12:41. I would argue though that Mazda offer the “standard” things needed in a compact or midsize car – space, fuel economy, reliability, price/value AND then add driving fun. It isn`t driving fun in place of some of the basics, it is in addition.

        But you are right that greater volume/cost sharing is probably required. It may be that the FIAT-Mazda cooperation on the new MX5/Alfa car leads to a greater alliance. Maybe something on the lines of Renault-Nissan. With a European/US company working with a Japanese company. I know there are some difference, like Renault not having a US business. But nothing in surmountable.

        Mazda also need to improve their marketing – which was in my earlier comments about the seemingly bizarre launch of the 6. No reviews or online configurator until 5 weeks AFTER the cars are on sale.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        Derek – thanks, I saw that Canada (and the UK) have the configurator online. Which makes the US decision even odder. The car was released in all three markets at the same time (very early January).

        Can you tell us who is doing the review – Alex, Jack, Michale, yourself? Also a comparison with cars like the Fusion SE and Accord Sport would be much appreciated. I can`t believe the turnover of new cars in the midsize market in the past 12-18 months. The 6 is pretty much the last one to get changed for the foreseeable future.

  • avatar
    Junebug

    We bought our oldest daughter a Mazda 3 back in 2010, it’s been a great car and still looks new (thanks to ME). I would love to have a Mazda 6 but with her college expenses and other stuff, I’ll have to wait. I sure hope they sell a ton of these, I’d love to see Mazda suceed.

  • avatar
    raded

    I purchased a new 2012 Mazda3 Skyactiv last year. The finance guy trying to sell me on the extended warranty had a hilarious explanation of what Skyactiv was and why I needed an extended warranty because of it.

    “You know this car has Skyactiv right? Well Skyactiv is a brand new computer made only in Japan that makes cars more efficient and if it breaks it’ll be expensive to replace.”

    • 0 avatar

      If that happened to me, I would be sorely tempted to walk out of the deal, and tell that guy’s boss why on the way out the door.

      • 0 avatar
        raded

        The price was right and they were the only dealership within 50 miles (in the sales tax-less Oregon) that had the specs and color I wanted. What’s sad is how many people probably believe him, then go around telling their family/friends, “It’s SKYACTIV, some new computer thing from Japan!”

        Hopefully it doesn’t become self-aware.

        (I ended up paying over $500 less than what I was anticipating and I’m very happy with the car.)

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      That’s great. The right answer is:

      “you’re right, maybe I shouldn’t buy this POS Mazda from you, and should go to the Honda guys across the street. Apparently their ‘Earth Dreams’ magic computer is cheaper to replace.”

      • 0 avatar
        Tosh

        Also acceptable: “Then you can keep your steamy pile, and I’ll come back next year when you’ve fixed all your first year problems — and when the 6MT diesel wagon is available.”

        About Earth Dreams: I had thought it was just a green button on the dash…?

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Mazda

    Everyone loves our cars, no one buys them

    Mazda

    The cars you love so much you don’t want to take them home

    Mazda

    Like the crazy chick you met at the bar last summer, good for a test drive

    Mazda

    Fun to drive, feature rich, award winning, who cares

    Mazda

    Oh I’ve heard of them!

  • avatar

    I’ve been inside of the 2014 Mazda6, and it certainly does feel more premium and enthusiast-oriented than any of the other cars in that segment. The trouble is that enthusiast-oriented cars do not equal profit. We’re such a small portion of the market. The next Mazdas need to be appreciably different from their competitors to the average buyer, not just the well-informed ones. Keep the pricing in check and offer thoughtful features and I don’t see this goal being a problem.

    And as evidenced by BMW, Jaguar, Audi and the like, the cars don’t have to be reliable to be regarded as premium; in fact they should be just the opposite–finicky and unreliable…

    • 0 avatar
      raded

      This is true and it’s sad. Mazda’s a great company with some great cars. BMW, Jag, and Audi sell awful cars at huge markups because they have recognizable badges. Hyundai/Kia, though getting better, spends most of their resources on marketing. Toyota and Honda make appliances. Chrysler sells Italian garbage. GM sells Korean garbage.

      • 0 avatar
        mikey

        @raded…. Now if Mazda could just cure thier rust problem.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        @raded, I’d hardly call BMWs, Jags and Audis “awful.”

        I would call the new BMWs a disgrace to their ancestors (since they’re further bloated and the silky inline 6 that helped make BMW is optional on many models), I would call the Jags reliability-challenged (same as it ever was), and I would call the Audis “very proudly priced,” however.

        Also, Toyota sells cars much closer to the what I would call “appliances” on a relative basis to Honda (the new Accord is actually leagues better than the new Camry in this regard, and the Corolla is the textbook definition of “appliance”).

        Finally, what is Korean “garbage?” The Cruz is actually a fairly good car for those who value solidity, a high quality interior, and excellent ride quality and peace & quiet – it may be best in class in these regards.

  • avatar
    fatalexception04

    Before writing I’ll declare I’m a Mazda fan. Someone else mentioned it, but I think Mazda needs to find a way to stand out. Skyactiv is one part of the equation and the fun to drive factor is another. I keep holding out hope that one day they go real different from their competitors and switch cars like the 3 and 6 to RWD. That would be quite a dramatic shift consider all their competition wouldn’t offer that.
    But since everyone sells fuel economy they have to really take some chances.

    The one thing I never understand is the amount of hate/dislike towards Mazda. I see a lot of comments on other “enthusiast” sites were people state how it wouldn’t matter if Mazda was gone. Without Mazda what other mainstream automaker would focus on ensuring their entire model range is sporty and fun to drive? Some may say BMW or Porsche (Both whom I like and have no bias against the company and cars, but more the image of its drivers), but even those companies have softened their sport driving dynamics in the continuing chase for sales. I mean heck, their Rolex 24 Mazda6 engines contain 64% factory production parts. I’d have to see how that number compares to other companies, but it still says a lot about the mission of Mazda. As car people I would think we’d want to see them succeed.

    As for the dealers, Mazda needs to revamp or cut some of them. When I bought my 3 back in 07 one dealer was trying to sell at a mark up and did no negotiating. I find that there are too many dealers near me with bad reps/selling practices. I ultimately bought my car from a great, honest dealer who was willing to negotiate. It was a great experience that my wife went back a year later and got a speed for herself and we’ll be returning there again.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      I started hoping Mazda would go all-in on the driving enthusiast niche and switch to RWD at least ten years ago. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure the chances of this happening are zero.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    If Mazda would just offer manual in all trim levels that would be perfection.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    I too am a big Mazda fan and an owner. My problem is that the “nearest” dealer is over 100 miles away. This leaves me with either purchasing a used car out of warrantee, or I need to have buckets, even barrels, full of faith that I will never need to use the dealer. That’s very hard to do.

    I admit that I am an engineer, but reading about the new skyactiv technology last year really renewed my interest in a new Mazda. What they have done is very impressive compared to the other car manufacturers out there. Even my brother-in-law who is a GM engineer was all “geeked” up about the skyactiv technology. After readin the positive comments on here, maybe I can get my wife to try out a new CX5; I know her brother has already said positive things about it. Once again, that’s from a GM engineer who wishes GM was more engineering driven and less accountant driven, in other words, more like Mazda.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      You’re an engineer. If you appreciate steering feel, a well sorted chassis, and a suspension design that does a quite admirable job of balancing precision and ride quality relative to its class, I don’t think there’s a competing vehicle within 5k or even 10k that can touch the CX5.

      p.s. Contrary to the the suggestion of some that I have an irrational bias against Ford, I’ll edit this to add that I think the Ford Escape is an excellent vehicle, also, but its more of a reliability gamble than the CX5 and is quite a bit more expensive.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I don’t really agree that Mazda has completely cut itself of with Ford.

    I bought a 2012 Mazda BT50GT and every part including the glass has FoMoCo on it. The T6 Ranger and BT50 are non-identical twins.

    As for Mazda becoming a premium brand, they have been very slowly moving in that direction for the past decade or so.

    Even Kia who was (until Hyundai bought them out) closely tied to Mazda by using their technical/engineering is moving to a more premium/sporty product in comparison to its sister company Hyundai.

    I don’t envisage Mazda not being able to succeed.

  • avatar
    CelticPete

    The compensation you have to do neuter the torque steer of FWD platforms neuters their steering feel.

    I have rented Mazda 6′s and 3s and while better then Camry, Corolla’s and Civics – lets not pretend they match up even with the most numb of the RWD machines – cars like Mercedes, BMW or even the rear bias Audis.

    I do agree they match Volkswagen – but the problem is the people that want appliances will stick with Toyota – and the people that care about driving dynamics will shell out for RWD and if for to compromise proper AWD. Mazda can’t really win.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      “I have rented Mazda 6′s and 3s and while better then Camry, Corolla’s and Civics – lets not pretend they match up even with the most numb of the RWD machines – cars like Mercedes, BMW or even the rear bias Audis.”

      It’s really not fair to compare those economical Mazdas to an R8! Surely you’re not talking about any of Audi’s nose-heavy offerings. Two of my closest friends have B8 S4s so I have lots of seat time and there’s no comparison between the numb video-game-like steering of those and the highly communicative steering of my ’04 Mazda3.

      The AWD Audis are also not compromises in any way, right down to their Nokian and Gislaved studded tires. They’re simply the fastest manual transmission semi-luxury sedan that one can buy for winter driving. The summer toys are an ’08 Z06 and an ’08 RX-8.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        “It’s really not fair to compare those economical Mazdas to an R8!”

        He wasn’t talking about R8s. Longitudinal Quattro Audis prior to the latest update to the Torsen central differential were 50/50. (transverse Audis use Haldex)

        The latest version of the Torsen central diff used in longitudinal Quattro Audis is rear-biased about 60/40. The Audi Q7 was one of the first rear-biased cars, and I believe its spec docs say it’s 58/42.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        Good info. I thought they were still 50/50. But that still doesn’t explain his claim that the manufacturer of the numbest steering I’ve ever felt on a car is producing vehicles with better steering feel than Mazda’s FWD offerings. So, unless it’s the R8, what could he be talking about? Does the A6/A7 or A8 – or one of those Q-wagons – really have that much better steering feel than the A4/S4/A5/S5?

  • avatar
    Pastor Glenn

    1.4 million units per year when 6 million is supposedly the minimum? Even a full-blown merger with Mitsubishi (1.1 million sales worldwide for 2012) wouldn’t cut the mustard, would it?

    Of course, Sergio could be dead wrong. He also could be head of a company which is dead while walking, if the US economy does a swan dive. GDP actually went down for the US, and with Japan and Europe in the doldrums….. “this should prove interesting”

    Mazda should probably merge with Mitsubishi, to be honest. Then focus engineering and r&d in Hiroshima, selling the Tokyo properties for a profit (am I not correct, Bertel, that Mitsu has r&d in Tokyo?)

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    @Pastor Glenn
    I think there is a good chance the automotive manufacturing industry will rationalise much more. It will follow a similar trend as the aviation industry. The aviation industry has 4 very large player now, Boeing,EADS, Bombardier, Embraer. The difference will be the aviation companies are “country” based and the auto companies will be trans-national. The aviation industry is 20-30 years ahead of the automotive industry.

    There will still be “niche” players, but what annual numbers would be considered a “niche” player in a global market could be 100′s of 1 000′s.

    I think a permanent decline in sales overall in OECD economies, this has to occur because a reduction in the standard of living is necessary.

    Japan is far worse than anyone can imagine, the Euro/US aren’t still out of the woods.

  • avatar
    ReturnofSAM

    I can’t really add much to the discussion other than to root for and advocate the plucky maker of cars with soul. Their ad campaign of “if it’s not worth driving, it’s not worth building” really got my heart going.

    My biggest fear now is that their Achilles heal will no longer be engineering based (crude engine tech, poor fuel economy, low feature content, etc) but marketing. As stated earlier in the comments, being engineering driven makes for a special product, but it’s marketing that makes people want that product. It’s also marketing that works on packaging the product in a way that people will want it. Give your base the manual they want in all trim levels! It’s true, the next generation of drivers seem to be less interested in driving. Mazda, do whatever it takes to win over those who do care.

  • avatar
    Power6

    You can build one on the Mazda USA site. Manual trans only available on the base model. Zoom-zoom indeed.


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