By on October 28, 2016

03_rx-vision-1024x572

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.

02_rx-vision

“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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63 Comments on “The Hipster Marque? Mazda Is Selling an Identity Along With Its Cars...”


  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    “or for the company to attempt a second run at the failed Amati division.”

    I weep for Eunos Cosmo.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    This Mazda man is just saying words, with no ideas behind them. Mazda is not a hipster brand in the slightest. They don’t have the feel-good Portlandia vibes like Subaru does. Nor have they got old blocky cars available for ironic purposes like Volvo.

    “Quirky premium hipster” doesn’t really exist except in a marketing PowerPoint. People with money lose the hipster vibe and just become regular liberals. Then they buy a Subaru.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    Mazda is what happens when car guys get hold of a company. Nothing, not even their CUVs, remains untainted by their delusion that at least 80% of prospective buyers give a hoot for “handling” and long hoods.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, who would want a refrigerator made by engineers who like refrigerators?
      I kinda hope the folks at Whirlpool are passionate about appliances.

      • 0 avatar
        wsn

        The work experiences (refrigerator vs car) won’t be much different for an engineer. 9 to 5. In front of a computer. Coke bottles on the desk. Team lunch after a milestone. Etc.

        • 0 avatar
          Kenmore

          Youse guyses scoffs would only be apropos if every appliance engineer was convinced that households across this great nation craved a cascading stage cryogenic fridge.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Kenmore, you need to just buy the world’s nicest old Buick, jack it up, fit underinflated balloon tires, and waft over the horizon never to be seen again. Some of us actually LIKE to drive, and appreciate cars that are more responsive than a parade float. Luckily, there are a few marques left that attempt to cater to us.

            I don’t actually care for Mazdas at all, but at least they TRY.

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            “Some of us actually LIKE to drive”

            I like letting Oscar Mayer’s liver sausage come down to room temp and then eating it with a spoon!

            My coreligionists may outnumber yours.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      That’d explain their problem solving skills:

      Analyst: Our sale are down 45% this year, people are saying our cars are too noisy, and need more space!

      Mazda Engineer: The lets make our insulation fabric 5% thinner!

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Wager sounds like the kind of guy who spews the “unmitigated bull$hit” that De Lorenzo always writes about. Hopefully the engineers in Hiroshima don’t pay too much attention to him….

  • avatar
    ajla

    Is Wagner just Johan de Nysschen in disguise?

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I always thought VW was the hipster brand. *ducks out of room*

  • avatar
    John

    I sure wish I were an edgy urban hipster, and had half the companies in the world begging me to use their products. Tim Cook seems to be a doing a great job running Apple into the ground by aiming the products exclusively at edgy urban hipsters (who really, really, REALLY want a touch bar to easier access emojis).

    • 0 avatar
      derekson

      I’d love to have a company that was being “run into the ground” by those standards. Only banking $9B per quarter in net income, just an utter disaster. At this rate they’ll be bankrupt in a few centuries.

  • avatar
    nels0300

    My first car was a Mazda, 86 626 GT turbo. Had 3 more Mazdas after that and now I won’t buy another.

    Forget the premium hipster garbage, you know what would’ve helped brand loyalty for this 4 time (3 brand new) Mazda owner?…..A very generous corrosion warranty. Maybe they’ve fixed their problem, but I’d want a guarantee.

    I know I’m not the only Mazda fan that loves Mazda but hates rust and won’t even look at Mazdas anymore. I’ve purchased 5 cars after my last Mazda that could’ve been Mazdas, but I didn’t even look at Mazda.

    • 0 avatar
      kogashiwa

      7-year unlimited mileage warranty against perforation is not bad.

      I haven’t seen a late-model Mazda with rust in a very, very long time and I live in Manitoba where our winters destroy everything.

      This reputation is at least ten years out of date, I think.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        2007 with rust https://cincinnati.craigslist.org/cto/5844214582.html
        2006 with rust https://cincinnati.craigslist.org/cto/5800695730.html
        2005 with rust https://cincinnati.craigslist.org/cto/5850028223.html
        2006 with rust https://columbus.craigslist.org/cto/5831575174.html

        They’re not 10 years out of it yet. When I see some 2010+ models at 10 years old without rust, I will agree to that statement.

        • 0 avatar
          carlisimo

          I don’t remember the details, but they took some step to address rust in ~2008.

        • 0 avatar
          indi500fan

          And Cinci is not exactly hard core salt territory either. I suspect the ones in Cleveland, Buffalo, and Chicago are significantly worse.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          the pre-2007 3 was a known rustbucket. That 5 you linked, however, clearly was hit on that side; the waviness in the wheelwell lip shows a rather substandard repair.

          on the other hand, my BIL bought a new 2008 Mazda 3 and 9 years of Michigan winters hasn’t made it rusty yet.

      • 0 avatar
        nels0300

        Hey neighbor, I’m in Minnesota.

        I see first gen Mazda3s all the time here with rust and the last year they made those was 2009.

        The second gen Mazda3 are still too new to know if they’ve fixed the problem.

        In five years, if the 2010 Mazda3s look the same as a 2010 Civic or Corolla, then maybe I’ll be comfortable with Mazda again.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      They’ve been doing recalls on rusting hinges, rusting suspension, rust around trunk areas, so at least they’re taking steps to fix it.
      http://mazda3revolution.com/forums/2014-2016-mazda-3-skyactiv-discussion/59185-door-hinges-rusting-all-doors.html
      http://www.torontomazda3.ca/forum/archive/index.php/t-79615.html
      https://www.mazdas247.com/forum/showthread.php?123841430-11-months-old-rust-on-hatch

      Its still an issue though

  • avatar
    Dingleberrypiez_Returns

    How do you write this article without even mentioning the latest CX-9? That vehicle in its highest trim is already implementing the upmarket strategy.

    • 0 avatar
      notwhoithink

      Agreed. It certainly feels “premium”. And TBH, if you look at the 2017 Mazda6 it has one of the most premium-feeling interiors in it’s class and price range, particularly if you get the upgrade to napa leather. The CX-5 is due to get similar treatment in the 2017 MY as well, which of course we’ll see next month.

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      Yep. I’ve heard it described as the first Mazda that’s genuinely quiet.

      The “Signature Series” is a good strategy. It won’t appeal to the badge snobs, but will attract someone looking for something nicer than your average vehicle. Only “those in the know” will know about it, which could help Mazda’s cache.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Mazda needs more HP, period. We can talk about jinba attai and C&D’s gushing but the bottom line is mid 7-8s 0-60 times are not premium. Offer satisfying straight line performance and I think people would make the jump. Most people don’t live on the side of a mountain and even if they do HP still matters.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      You posted while I did, I guess…100% agree.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        Plus it’s not like Mazdas are so dynamically incredible anyway. The 3i rental I had drove exactly like the TSI rental I had, minus what felt like 100lb-ft from 2000-4000 RPM. If I had to pick I know which one I’d buy. And with the GTI Sport going for $28K it’s definitely a no brainer vs the equally expensive 3s.

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      Mazda followed some suburban moms around and learned how they drive their typical routes to school and shopping. I think Mazda will tune their engines toward more low end torque rather than more HP at the upper bands.

      A turbo will help with the customers on the mountain side.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      no they don’t. out of the 17 million or so new vehicle buyers every year, only a very slim fraction care about 0-60 times, horsepower, or handling.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    If you want me to consider your products more upscale, Mazda, quit making them so damned slow and underpowered.

    • 0 avatar
      Dawnrazor

      I couldn’t agree more, the lack of high-power options definitely hurts their image. Despite the fact that their products are otherwise mostly excellent, I can’t help but see Mazda as being on a slightly lower tier than Honda, Toyota, or Subaru.

      I mean the 6 and CX-5 in particular must be some of the most frustrating vehicles on the market! They look “premium”, do almost everything right, and could be leaders in their respective vehicle segments, but tragically their proverbial wings are clipped from birth by the pokey powertrains and they can never soar to the heights they are capable of.

    • 0 avatar
      Daniel J

      Couldn’t disagree more. The 2.5 in our cx5 is more than adequate. How many people are buying the upper end engines from any of the major brands? 1O percent? 15? How many people would buy the 2.5 turbo in the cx9 if it was in the Mazda 6? 1 in 10?

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        Maybe you don’t buy the option engine and settle for the base model, but for the guy with more to spend and a heavier right foot, Mazda says: “go away. We’re not *that* kinda sporty”.

        Kinda hard to “zoom-zoom” and keep the sporting attitude when you saddle every car with the rental version’s engine.

        Does everyone buy the Charger or 300 with a V-8? No. Would they be idiots to drop them as options based on your logic? Yes.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I respect Mazda for its nonsensical commitment to rotary engines.

  • avatar
    nels0300

    The lack of power thing with Mazda is new, it didn’t used to be a problem, in fact, in the 80s and early 90s, Mazda actually had more power than their Honda or Toyota counterparts.

    The 626 GT was more powerful than the Accord or Camry. Horsepower may have been similar, but the Mazda had WAY more torque and felt significantly more powerful. That 2.2L turbo felt FAST. Mazda definitely was the sportier, more interesting choice back then.

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    I don’t mind the slightly disappointing acceleration in my 2016 Mazda3 2.5L 6MT, but throttle response is poor. My 2002 Miata doesn’t have that problem so it feels quicker even though it isn’t.

    Noise has always been an issue, though I hear it’s better in the 2017 Mazda3 refresh.

    Everything else is great.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Ooof! So much hot air from guys like this. He should do the “undercover boss” thing and check out a few U.S. Mazda dealerships. “quirky” and “artisanal” (the real things, that is) seem to happen by accident, more or less. Subaru convinced nail-biters everywhere that AWD offers more safety when the road is dry or wet, not to mention snowy . . . when it doesn’t. It just keeps you from getting stuck in the snow, assuming you’re smart enough to use true snow tires on the wheels and don’t try to plow through 18 inches of fresh white stuff.

    And Volvo advertised itself as the “sensible car,” back in the day, touting extreme longevity of the old 240, use of heavy gauge Swedish steel in the body and real safety, like 4-wheel disc brakes and 3-point lap/shoulder belts when everyone else was just doing the regulatory minimum — equipping their cars with lap belts. And Volvos have always had awesome seats; I remember driving my dad’s 1970 model.

    If you’re going “upscale” you do need more power, and you need to be at least as quiet as your “downscale” competitors. The two go together: a busy engine and lots of road noise are not “upscale,” “artisanal,” or anything else positive. What they are is “cheap” like an econobox.

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      The guy is VP of Marketing. He won’t survive the B&B. I think Mazda’s Dave Coleman is better suited to addressing TTAC.

    • 0 avatar

      Nissan also has noisy engine and low market feel. After riding in Altima or Mazda6 Camry even 15 years old one feels truly like a luxury ride. I experienced it myself when after renting brand new Altima for a week my friend picked me up at airport in his 2000 Camry. Just try some time, compare them side by side.

  • avatar
    grinchsmate

    I remember a really interesting article a while back on the differences between the US and Canadian markets.

    Im guessing if TTAC did the same for Australia the difference would be Mazda. Second best selling brand with a reputation as whitegood transport without the whitegood look.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Americans like Toyotas, Hondas and large pickups.

      Aussies like Toyotas, Mazdas and intermediate pickups.

      In both places, crossovers are gaining in popularity, while large domestic sedans are declining.

      Aussies still get some European brands that failed in the US quite some time ago (Peugeot, Citroen, etc.) but those aren’t particularly popular in Australia, either.

      • 0 avatar
        grinchsmate

        And in my opinion the intermediate v large is really a price difference. If Australians got F trucks at a similar price to Americans they would be everywhere.

        As to the tiny brands that is a real regulatory difference. Australian Design Rules basically allow all Euro Jap and NA vehicles. While US regulations are more restrictive. If you want to argue why I’m sure dickhead will show up shortly.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    “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”.
    I cross shopped the 6 against the Accord two years ago and found that the 6 was about $3K more than the comparable Accord. The Camry was even less compared to the Accord. This was largely due to the fact the the base Accord was better equipped than the base 6. So, it seems that Mazda is already getting a premium price vs. the Competition

  • avatar
    CincyDavid

    When I moved back to Cincinnati from St. Louis, I was amazed at how rusty cars are here. The climate in STL is really similar but there are VERY few rusty cars there compared to Cincy. I marvel at the Buick Century sedans with NO rocker panels, Crown Vics with doglegs rusted through and rusty fenders above the wheel opening, Mazdas rotting to pieces, etc.

    I wonder what they do differently in OH to contribute to the rust. I sense that they use more liquid brine in MO and more granular salt in OH but that’s the only real difference I see. I can’t imagine that either product is good for steel.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    @CincyDavid–Cincinnati uses beet juice with salt for road treatment during the Winter. Beet juice is very corrosive, but it is less expensive and it is more effective at lower temperatures than salt. Road salt has gone up in price and there have been shortages of road salt.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    My 3 suggestions to Mazda if they’re going to move upmarket:

    1. Learn what rust is, steal from Audi if you have to (at least they do corrosion resistance right)
    2. Make Cruise Control a standard feature on the 3
    3. Dont be scared to add insulation, decent paint, things to make your cars feel “solid”.

    Bonus Suggestion: Make the rotary optional! The average consumer doesnt have the time/patience to maintain a rotary properly. Oh, and please dont stick the sparkplugs behind the wheels!

  • avatar
    macmcmacmac

    If they want to be the hipster brand they better start offering a one speed transmission.

  • avatar
    Lynchenstein

    I’d be thrilled if they offered the MX-5 in more than black, grey, silver, white, “ceramic” and red. C’mon!!

  • avatar
    Proflig8tor

    Before increasing prices, make sure the product line is something buyers will pay a premium for. Case in point, the only three-row wagon sold in the United States is the $65,000 Mecedes E Class. They saddle it with AWD, wich adds weight, decreases economy and numbs the steering (I own two). Mazda makes a great 6 wagon that they sell just over the border. We would have happily paid >$35k for the 6 Wagon to replace our 2015 Mazda 6 which got broadsided and totaled.

    The CX9 is huge, not very space efficient and very tall.

    We went for a used Mercedes.

    My list of Mazda Cars:
    1982 RX7
    1984 RX7
    1988 RX7 (2 of those, 1 convertible)
    1993 Miata
    1999 Miata (4 of them, … liked the 10th Anniversary and the base model Sport Pkg)
    2004 6
    2006 6
    2015 6

    Now nothing I want and it seems to me the Miata desired is overpriced. Driven their SUV’s and have no interest. Rather buy a used Flex.

  • avatar
    kefkafloyd

    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.

  • avatar
    Lex

    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.


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