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