By on March 23, 2018

2019 Mazda 6

There’s still a ways to go, but the transition of Mazda’s image into that of a semi-premium automaker is well underway. The latest interiors — and exteriors — emerging from the brand boast extra refinement, better materials, and a subdued elegance you won’t find on, say, a Nissan.

Mazda’s getting there, but in the meantime, sales remain an issue. Between the brand’s recent U.S. sales pinnacle in 2015 and the end of 2017, volume fell 9.3 percent. There’s a plan to turn it around, and it doesn’t all have to do with the automaker’s looming mystery crossover.

Speaking to Automotive News, Jim Bagan, chairman of the Mazda National Dealer Advisory Council chairman, said Mazda has made great strides in boosting its image.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say we’re on a strong seven or weak eight with 10 meaning you have absolutely arrived with every product you built,” said Bagan, who co-owns four Texas Mazda dealers. “From an engineering, mechanical standpoint, we’re there.”

Bagan’s obviously referring to the company’s revolutionary Skyactiv-X gasoline compression ignition engine, bound for the next-generation Mazda 3. Without an electric or hybrid vehicle in its limited lineup, the automaker instead put its efforts into eking every last bit of fuel economy out of the internal combustion engine. Toyota, which owns a 5 percent stake in Mazda, is ready and willing to provide the electrification, as needed.

Okay, so Bagan rates the brand’s makeover as maybe a low eight. What’s left to do? Well, there’s more work to be done on interiors, though Bagan rates the recently refreshed CX-5 as “a nine or a weak 10.” The CX-9, also recently refreshed, gets a nod of approval, as does the 6, which sees a host of changes for 2018 — including the addition of a long-awaited turbocharged engine.

“What we want to be is the premium brand that gives you everything that Mercedes does, gives the experience that Mercedes does, but you don’t have to pay for the Mercedes,” he said, summing up Mazda’s basic plan. (We doubt Mazda execs have a crossed-out photo of Dr. Z on the wall at HQ.)

Vehicles that don’t rate a high number on the “refined or not” scale include those which haven’t seen a refresh. In a small measure, this could be holding back sales. Mazda, after all, only sells six models in North America.

“The CX-3 will be repositioned with its next refreshening (in 2019). We’ll get an incremental sale out of that,” Bagan said. “Then, obviously, the car that’s going to come to market from the Toyota-Mazda relationship of joint manufacturing in the U.S.”

Mazda won’t divulge details on that tailored-for-America model, though there’ll be capacity for 150,000 units a year once the assembly plant finishes construction in Alabama. Bagan says Mazda doesn’t expect to sell 150,000 mystery vehicles a year, but it will make up a large portion of the additional 150k vehicles the company plans to sell each year. Mazda’s goal is a 2 percent market share in the United States. So far, it’s slice of the market is getting more meagre.

A renewed advertising effort will play a big role in getting the brand’s message out, Bagan said; right now, it’s something dealers aren’t too happy about.

The CX-5 and CX-9 were the only Mazda models to see year-over-year sales gains in the U.S. last month, though the additional CX-5 volume (up 68.7 percent) was enough to push the entire brand up 12.7 percent. In the first two months of 2018, Mazda sales rose 13.9 percent, no thanks to the company’s plummeting car lineup.

[Images: Mazda]

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51 Comments on “Uptown Living: Mazda Dealer Council Boss Says Brand Is a ‘Strong Seven or Weak Eight’ on the Classy Scale...”

  • avatar

    If mazda wants to go up market, they need one thing.


    The turbo 6 is a step in the right direction, but they need more displacement and cylinders in the 6 and their CX9 if they want it to be competitive. The 2.5t also needs to find its way into the 3.

    • 0 avatar

      And use better parts. What I noticed, expensive cars have brake parts more resistant to rust. My Mazda is only 6 months but brake calipers already start to get covered in rust. I see some older BMW and their calipers are still shiny. You know, this is pathetic when you have those big wheels with nice spokes, and chunk of rust sticking out of it.

      • 0 avatar

        Yikes that’s bad. My brother has a Mazda 6 and I’ve not seen that on his. Are you in the rust belt? I will say the interior hasn’t aged great.

      • 0 avatar

        You pointed to the reason Mazda sales peaked in 2015 and have gone down since. An older rustbelt generation that watched earlier Mazdas melt before their eyes was replaced by a new generation that gave them a try, and saw the same thing.

        Toyota and Subaru got a handle on rust and their sales have recovered and flourished, especially Subaru with its AWD. Mazda will have to emphasize rustproofing or wait for another generation. It’s either that or give up on a third of the US market.

        • 0 avatar

          I have long experience with mazda. There were rust related issues. What I noticed on ’10-11 models vs ’98, hardware is worse than before. Hose clamps, bolts that used to be shiny after 16 years in use now are rusty in 4 years. Brakes more prone to rust too. But in ’98 model I had to replace 1 piece of exhaust by this time (vs ’10). And ’10 shows no signs on exhaust issues. And still Toyota that is parked next to same house, older, and yet has less rust issues. I had to cut front rotors off my ’11 Mazda3 after 6 years. Last week it took 10 seconds to simply pull front rotors off highlander after being untouched for 9 years. There we go. Subaru seem having Rust too. Just watch youtube videos, how they can’t separate parts in Subarus

  • avatar

    “What we want to be is the premium brand that gives you everything that Mercedes does, gives the experience that Mercedes does, but you don’t have to pay for the Mercedes,” he said, summing up Mazda’s basic plan.”

    To do this, you’ll need:

    Rear-drive platforms
    Truck-based luxo SUV in $100,000+ class
    Larger sedan
    Very large sedan
    A better badge
    Good dealers
    More dealers
    Better NVH isolation
    A premium trim beyond GT
    A larger convertible
    A super car or two

    Aim lower in your luxury goals, Mazda. Maybe reach Lincoln levels first.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, that seems like a nutty statement to make out loud. They don’t need a large sedan, but the 3 and 6 need to round out their packages a bit better.

      The new model is almost certainly a CX-7, and the next-gen CX-9 will go larger (wider, more room behind 3rd row, V6?) and upmarket.

      A new high-end sports car (RX-9?) would be nice too.

    • 0 avatar

      Mazda just needs to be better than the Mercedes CLA.

      Kidding aside, yes, the salesman / marketer is getting ahead of himself. But Mazda is on the right path: make all models a little better, offer a premium signature trim, and make an attainable halo car (Miata).

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      That was a rather ambitious statement, to be kind. Now, Mercedes has done some “downmarket” things like turbo-fours in $50K E-class sedans and the pitiable CLA, but they have the halo of AMG and literally decades of luxury marque reputation here to shield them from that. A 30-year old Mercedes SL still looks classy.

      A 30-year old Mazda? Not quite the same presence. But what defines Mazda for most will be what they see the most of: an aging and cheap-looking joker-faced 3 with yellowing headlights driven aggressively by a decidedly non-luxury buyer. The current lineup is far nicer, but you can’t just re-invent yourself as Mercedes-Benz when your past is in plain sight.

      The dealership experience will also be hard to match. And expensive, from the looks of it.

    • 0 avatar

      Mazda doesn’t want to compete head-to-head against MB, altho the 3 is preferable to the CLA, but rather, wants to fill the niche that VW used to hold in the US – a more premium mass market brand (where driving dynamics and a higher-end interior against the mainstream competition are the hallmarks).

      The problem with that strategy is that there’s only a niche segment of buyers willing to spend a premium for such things – which is why VW in the US has taken a different tact (offering larger and “cheapened” models for the US market).

      The US market is very price sensitive – as Honda is finding out with the Accord.

      Not surprisingly, Mazda does better in markets which place a higher premium on such things such as Europe and Australia.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s what he should’ve said then, and left the luxurious and established Mercedes-Benz name out of his statement.

        Offering what Mercedes-Benz offers is not the same thing as offering what VW offered 30 years ago. If his wording was that mixed (where he meant VW and said Mercedes) he should have rephrased.

        • 0 avatar

          Bagan is a marketing/sales guy – so of course, he’s going to make things seem nicer than they really are (getting a Benz at a lower price sounds a lot better than saying getting what VW used to be here in the States).

  • avatar

    Two words: Rustproofing.

    • 0 avatar

      Very much this, at least in locales that are prone to rust.

      As long as Mazdas continue to be perceived as rusters, I don’t see how they can be seen as upscale. Not a day goes by that I don’t see a rusted out Mazda 3, 5, or 6, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who lets this degrade the brand’s value in their mind. I’ve seen widespread complaints on Mazda forums about inadequate rustproofing on the latest gen, as well, so I still don’t buy the “We’ve fixed it now” schtick.

      I want Mazda to succeed; I want to believe that the high depreciation of its cars compared to their competitors make them a good used buy, but I don’t. I’ve heard too many stories of undercarriage bolts and pieces rusting within a couple of winters, and seen too many rusted-out 7 year-old unibodies to trust them.

      Make sure the durability and quality are up to the same standards as the styling, interior, and driving dynamics, and I think success will follow. After all, that’s the path that got Mercedes to where it could get away with its half-assed quality it has today. You have to do the hard work first.

      • 0 avatar

        “Not a day goes by that I don’t see a rusted out Mazda 3, 5, or 6, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who lets this degrade the brand’s value in their mind. I’ve seen widespread complaints on Mazda forums about inadequate rustproofing on the latest gen”

        What are you seeing, exactly? The same rusty Generation I Mazda3s that the internet has been bashing for ten years?

        I see them too. But I also see boatloads of Gen II+ models, some of them dating back nearly 10 years now, and not a single rust bucket among them.

        I also see the internet complaints about the newer models. A handful of photos of surface rust on spot welds, rail dust and stone chips. And maybe the occasional factory paint defect. In other words, typical online complaints. But nothing like 2003.

        • 0 avatar

          Gen 2 are rusting up here as well, particularly Mazda5s, almost always by the rear wheel arches. And yeah, surface rust on cars that are less than a year old doesn’t bode well for how they’ll hold up in 10 years. I hope I’m wrong, but I’ll wait to see it before I believe it. Mazda claimed to have fixed their rust issues from the Protege to the first gen 3, and we know how that turned out.

          • 0 avatar

            Mazda must not dip their cars to improve rust resistance… I have a 5-year-old Elantra GT with no signs of rust both top and bottom. Hyundai dips their cars in rust proofing solution
            I live in Wisconsin

        • 0 avatar

          I’m in the general rust belt vicinity, and I only saw my first rusty GenII 3 this week (rear arches). Considering the GenI’s were getting visibly rusty while they were still in production, they’ve definitely made progress. Also, for what it’s worth, I have a ’14 2, and it’s still pretty clean underneath (I had it up in the fall swapping out the rear springs). If they can keep this up for another decade, they’ll hopefully shake their reputation.

      • 0 avatar

        Do you live in the Forgotten Underwater City of Atlantis? I have a 225k mile 04 Mazda 3 with zero rust on it, interior looks brand new, mechanically perfect. That’s 14 years of Colorado winters; slushy salt, rocks, hail, etc. First 9 years were un-garaged. I’ve never seen a ‘rusted out’ Mazda.Those who complain about brake rotor rust are very funny peoples, yes?

  • avatar

    2015 Mazda 3 touring sedan sold me on near-lux on the test drive, but lost me once I lived with it. The quality of the interior was only skin deep, and focused pretty much only on the driver’s position. And the noise- it was econo-box quality in terms of noise abatement. Just enough HP to be fun and a great chassis to drive. They kept sending me things post purchase, just like BMW does, so I knew they were trying to capture some of that segment, but the product could not fulfill the promise. I do hope they figure it out in the future, however, as I do think there is a place for that kind of positioning in the marketplace.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “From an engineering, mechanical standpoint, we’re there.”

    This summarizes their self-delusion.

    I predict an early dissolution of the Toyota-Mazda relationship. These companies are on different tracks. I really don’t know what Mazda brings to the table.

    • 0 avatar

      Mazda limps in the back door at Toyota with rotary tech to drive small constant-speed onboard electrical generators for future on and off road Toyota EV’s. Once Toyota acquires the rights to the tech and research through the partnership, goodby Mazda. Mazda may get a cigarette and a kiss but that’ll be all.

    • 0 avatar

      No they are not. Other companies including Toyota come to Mazda to buy models to sell. Toyota wouldn’t want it’s imagevtainted by buying/selling a crap iA.
      Mazda bring deep engineering expertise as shown by the Skyactiv engines and the MX-5. They have addressed most reasonable criticisms like poor NVH, styling, interior wuality, fuel economy. Each model gets successively better as shown by the second gen CX5 which has had massive sales growth this year ( >60%).

    • 0 avatar

      Mazda knows how to make a pretty car. Toyota does not.

      That’s about all Mazda brings to the table.

  • avatar

    Late in 2012, we compared a Ford Focus SE hatchback and a Mazda3 hatchback, both with manual transmissions. The Mazda3 was still the previous generation with the front end that resembled the Joker’s maniacal grin. We bought the Ford because, at the time, it was more refined than the Mazda. In the five and a half years we have owned the car, it has given me no reason to regret the choice. I would expect the current Mazda3, which was introduced the following year, to be more refined than our Focus.

  • avatar

    Are they competitive on interior noise now? Last 3 series I drove in 2014 was nowhere close to the Cruze I then owned – at interstate speeds.

  • avatar

    So Mazda want to be like Buick – another premium for less brand?

  • avatar

    I get what a lot of these comments are saying, but I still want to drag my balls across that hand crafted Rosewood trim Mazda offers.

  • avatar

    ajla, you planted a picture in my head that just won’t go away now, and it’s not good!

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Semi-premium branding hasn’t worked for anyone. VW tried this for years in the US and it didn’t work. Volvo and Saab tried. Buick continues to try.

    It doesn’t work. People try it when they have a mid-market brand that isn’t doing the volume of the segment leaders. So they figure they need to get a higher price per unit than the volume players do in order to survive. But it never, ever works.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      It seems to work for Honda, VW, Subaru, Skoda, French cars, etc.

      I do view Mazda almost a semi-premium brand already. Like the above mentioned vehicles, Mazda has set itself apart from the more mainstream brands.

      I think Mazda in Australia is the second largest selling brand.

  • avatar

    Skyactive works on paper. Not in the real world. Reliability isn’t there yet. Steering rack issues, fuel injector problems. Unless you use premium gas they, don’t run that well. And there not that efficient. That’s why people flock to Corollas !
    Even Hyundais Elentra offers more refinement ,fuel efficiency and reliability over. Mazda 3.

    • 0 avatar

      They don’t need premium gas. The new line up has been pretty reliable, especially when you consider that in 2012 they brought out new engines, new transmissions and a new chassis.

    • 0 avatar
      Kaps S

      You can see videos on youtube about 3’s getting mid 40s, 6 getting 40+ mpg. What makes it easier is low end torque. IF you drive normal – you can hit EPA# + 2. Infact after seeing # of complains about other brands – I can say MZD is one of the only brands that is very realistic. I also drive a Camry SE from 2015. It never, never ever in any situation – city or highway beats or hits its EPA. A CX5 gives me better mpg in mixed, short trip driving over a Camry.
      There have been sporadic complains about MAzda
      > Paint is soft -agreed.
      > Batch of cars had tranny issues.
      > CX5s had problem windshields.
      > DRLs died and were fixed with a latest version J headlight.

      But what you mention is not true and is probably your lack of driving a new mazda.

  • avatar
    pale ghost

    Bought a ’15 6 GT. Noise on the highway is awful as is harsh ride. Depreciation is so bad I feel like I have to keep it for 2 more years to lessen the per year beating. I live in the midAtlantic – hopefully it won’t have been attacked by the the rust worm when I go to sell it. It does look good and handle well.

  • avatar
    Peter Gazis

    And Pinocchio wanted to be a real boy.

  • avatar
    Peter Gazis

    And Pinocchio wanted to be a real boy.

  • avatar

    Owner of three Mazdas here:
    2000 MPV
    2003 MPV
    (Yes had two at the same time. Both long gone now.)
    Current – 2011 CX9

    The MPVs were very reliable mechanically – both easily going over 100,000.
    There were some minor rust issues – especially around the rear wheel wells.
    But for vehicles that were abused by my kids and taken on vacations.
    The 2003 in particular – didn’t shrug in 100 degree heat stuck in traffic on the GSP stuffed with a week’s worth of vacation stuff, the roof rack full – and four bikes hanging off the back.

    The CX9 has been dead reliable (knock on wood) for 7 years and 75000 miles. No rust at all (again – knock on wood).

    I’m in the market for a replacement for my 2008 Fusion – and the turbo 6 looks tempting. I’m just waiting for pricing and the on-line configurator to be released so I can see what’s available/cost.

  • avatar
    Kaps S

    I own a CX5 and have put 20K miles on it, my best trip mpg was 39. I avg out 28 in real world driving. Low the low end torque – the CX5 is an urban raised hatch. Having said that dealer experience is bad. They do not know or stock Mazda’s own moly – its really hard to find it even in large metros. My own dealer experience is bad – not ready to do a simple TSB released by Mazda. Other experiences I have heard are generally good with dealers helping and quick to fix issues with the cars.
    I can definitely say MZD will be a consideration in my next purchase. Small dealer network and not many segments means its still a niche player. As someone noted – it kills Honda / Toyota in many markets – Austalia / EU. In Aussie land MZD3 alone outsells entire honda line up by 3 is 1. CX5 is top selling crossover and has been for many years. On reliability front – I would set 150K miles at bare minimum as there are no turbos or CVTs. That is sufficient for me. I wouldnt be surprised if it hits 250K as well. Still solid driving car with great handling.

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