Mazda Tries To Move Up, Sans Amati

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler
mazda tries to move up sans amati

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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  • Macca Macca on Nov 26, 2012

    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.

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    • Redav Redav on Nov 28, 2012

      @George B 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.

  • Acuraandy Acuraandy on Nov 26, 2012

    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.

  • JLGOLDEN JLGOLDEN on Nov 27, 2012

    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.

  • Rod Panhard Rod Panhard on Nov 27, 2012

    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.