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

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
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.

[Images: Mazda]

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2 of 63 comments
  • 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.

  • Jeanbaptiste Any variant of “pizza” flavored combos. I only eat these on car trips and they are just my special gut wrenching treat.
  • Nrd515 Usually for me it's been Arby's for pretty much forever, except when the one near my house dosed me with food poisoning twice in about a year. Both times were horrible, but the second time was just so terrible it's up near the top of my medical horror stories, and I have a few of those. Obviously, I never went to that one again. I'm still pissed at Arby's for dropping Potato Cakes, and Culver's is truly better anyway. It will be Arby's fish for my "cheat day", when I eat what I want. No tartar sauce and no lettuce on mine, please. And if I get a fish and a French Dip & Swiss? Keep the Swiss, and the dip, too salty. Just the meat and the bread for me, thanks. The odds are about 25% that they will screw one or both of them up and I will have to drive through again to get replacement sandwiches. Culver's seems to get my order right many times in a row, but if I hurry and don't check my order, that's when it's screwed up and garbage to me. My best friend lives on Starbucks coffee. I don't understand coffee's appeal at all. Both my sister and I hate anything it's in. It's like green peppers, they ruin everything they touch. About the only things I hate more than coffee are most condiments, ranked from most hated to..who cares..[list=1][*]Tartar sauce. Just thinking about it makes me smell it in my head. A nod to Ranch here too. Disgusting. [/*][*]Mayo. JEEEEZUS! WTF?[/*][*]Ketchup. Sweet puke tasting sludge. On my fries? Salt. [/*][*]Mustard. Yikes. Brown, yellow, whatever, it's just awful.[/*][*]Pickles. Just ruin it from the pickle juice. No. [/*][*]Horsey, Secret, whatever sauce. Gross. [/*][*]American Cheese. American Sleeze. Any cheese, I don't want it.[/*][*]Shredded lettuce. I don't hate it, but it's warm and what's the point?[/*][*]Raw onion. Totally OK, but not something I really want. Grilled onions is a whole nother thing, I WANT those on a burger.[/*][*]Any of that "juice" that Subway and other sandwich places want to put on. NO, HELL NO! Actually, move this up to #5. [/*][/list=1]
  • SPPPP It seems like a really nice car that's just still trying to find its customer.
  • MRF 95 T-Bird I owned an 87 Thunderbird aka the second generation aero bird. It was a fine driving comfortable and very reliable car. Quite underrated compared to the GM G-body mid sized coupes since unlike them they had rack and pinion steering and struts on all four wheels plus fuel injection which GM was a bit late to the game on their mid and full sized cars. When I sold it I considered a Mark VII LSC which like many had its trouble prone air suspension deleted and replaced with coils and struts. Instead I went for a MN-12 Thunderbird.
  • SCE to AUX Somebody got the bill of material mixed up and never caught it.Maybe the stud was for a different version (like the 4xe) which might use a different fuel tank.