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