Uptown Living: Mazda Dealer Council Boss Says Brand Is a 'Strong Seven or Weak Eight' on the Classy Scale

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

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]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

More by Steph Willems

Join the conversation
2 of 51 comments
  • CaptainObvious CaptainObvious on Mar 26, 2018

    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.

  • Kek Kek on Mar 26, 2018

    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.

  • Carson D I hadn't seen a second-generation Courier with a Mazda engine before. I've seen a few with Ford engines. There was one at the Cox Driving Range that they used to collect golf balls. Golf would definitely be more entertaining to watch if they used moving targets.
  • Tassos ooops, Tim, you missed this one. Would make a lovely "Tim's used car of the day". It satisfies all the prerequisites except the wildly overpriced bit.
  • Tassos ASTON AND BOND BY A MILE. While Aston Martin sells a TINY FRACTION of what even the rarified Ferrari and Lambo sell, it is unbelievably well known. Credit the idiotic, but hugely successful and sometimes entertaining James Bond Movies.
  • Tassos 1988? Too young for me. It's all yours, Tim... BAHAHAHAHA!
  • Gray Awesome. Love these. But, if I had the money for a Fox-body, there is a clean '84 GT 350 here for little more than half the price.