The Hipster Marque? Mazda Is Selling an Identity Along With Its Cars

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Mazda is like that artisan pizza place or a craft brewery your coolest friends all like. They make a familiar product, but there is definitely something different about it. While you can’t always place your finger on it, that unexplainable “x” factor affords them the hint of pretentiousness that comes along with doing things differently.

And like any hip outlet selling quirky artisanal goods, they are likely going to start charging you more for it.

Mazda wants to reach out to more affluent consumers and move upmarket, but without the the need to produce a new luxury model. “We’re driving ahead to ‘Mazda premium,’” Russell Wager, vice president of marketing for Mazda North America, said in a roundtable covered by Wards Auto.

“We’re not trying to go luxury; that’s not in our cards,” Wager said of Mazda. “But we are trying to make vehicles people will pay more for.”

Given that the average income of Mazda buyers is up, Mazda feels that the brand is attracting more educated consumers — people who can typically afford something more expensive than what amounts to an entry-level vehicle. Wager says brand loyalty has improved as well, but is still below the industry norm.

“We need to work on it,” he admitted.

The plan to make Mazda a more premium brand is currently ill-defined. Mazda’s North American vehicle lineup consists of three crossovers, two passenger cars, and the MX-5 roadster. Every model is competitively priced against the competition and frequently praised for offering superior looks and a unique driving experience. Mazda could simply want to make their current lineup more expensive in the years to come, or start offering higher trim levels.

Don’t expect Mazda to launch an elite new Mazda 9 Platinum or for the company to attempt a second run at the failed Amati division. Wager indicated that the company has no interest in building “a premium, pricey model.” Which begs the question, what is a premium brand without a premium model?

Mazda already produces unique cars, so Wagner’s premium pitch may just be a way to rationalize paying more for the cars they already make.

One future exception, however, could be the RX-9, as Mazda has continued work on rotary engines despite their impracticality and difficulty in passing emissions tests. While most accounts specify that that Mazda has given the rotary a lot less attention since the RX-8 was discontinued, Wagner confirmed that it was still in the mix along, with a possible future RX car based off the RX-Vision Concept.

“That car wouldn’t come to market unless it has a rotary engine,” he told Wards. “That’s what they are working on.”

I suppose a Mazda RX-9 without a rotary engine would be like that cool small restaurant not serving your kombucha in a mason jar topped with bee pollen. It’s about the experience, the trendiness, and selling an adherence to the uniqueness just as much as it is crafting something enjoyable.

The entire zoom-zooming fleet has a little bit of that going on, if you stop to think about it.

Mazda could get away with another rotary car or charging more for its current lineup because it is that cool small restaurant selling you experiential artifacts and an image. With only a 2 percent share of the market and a clearly defined product, Mazda is in a great place to be the quirky little company doing its own thing. Remember Subaru?

“We are comfortable with our place in the market,” Wager says. “We know how to make great cars and make money.”

That said, many would like to see Mazda create a more refined engine for the 6 sedan, ideally boasting more horsepower. We hear that might happen.

[Images: Mazda]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Kefkafloyd Kefkafloyd on Oct 31, 2016

    TRIANGLES! TRIANGLES! TRIANGLES! THE ROTARY ENGINE IS SO SMALL BUT SO POWERFUL! TRIANGLES! Sarcasm aside, as a Mazda Enthusiast they're the only company peddling what Pontiac would a few years ago (sporty looking sometimes with performance chops cars) ergo they get my money.

  • Lex Lex on Apr 25, 2017

    OP- I think Mazda is already working to get there. The CX-9 comes with a "Signature" trim line that is quite opulent by luxury car standards (Real wood trim, napa leather). My guess is that they want to take this a step further and offer performance based options to pair along with the signature trim, rather than set up an entirely new product line. As a current Mazda owner, I am specifically in the demographic for this, as my alternative cars in this range are the XC90, Acura MDX. I waitedtwo years for this but now that I've driven one, I'm struggling to justify dropping $45 large on a 4 banger, albeit a Turbocharged one.

  • 28-Cars-Later I guess Santa showed up with bales of cash for Mitsu this past Christmas.
  • Lou_BC I was looking at an extended warranty for my truck. The F&I guy was trying to sell me on the idea by telling me how his wife's Cadillac had 2 infotainment failures costing $4,600 dollars each and how it was very common in all of their products. These idiots can't build a reliable vehicle and they want me to trust them with the vehicle "taking over" for me.
  • Sobhuza Trooper Like fusion power, the I.D. Buzz is only 30 years away.
  • Lou_BC "respondents between 18 and 80 years old" Basically anyone deemed an adult who might be allowed to drive.
  • Lou_BC They will do fine if they come up with some cool sedans ;)