2019 Was the Worst Year for the Mazda 3 Since 1990 - Won't the CX-30 Make 2020 Even Worse?

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
2019 was the worst year for the mazda 3 since 1990 wont the cx 30 make 2020 even

There are three main criteria for measuring the degree to which 2019 was a disastrous year for the Mazda 3 in the United States small car marketplace.

First, judge the Mazda 3 based on key competitors. Mazda 3 sales tumbled 21 percent to 50,741 units during a year in which the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla levelled off north of 300,000 units, in excess of six times the Mazda’s total. The Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra, and Volkswagen Jetta were all at least twice as popular as the Mazda 3; the Kia Forte nearly so. The Subaru Impreza outsold the Mazda, too.

Second, consider how the Mazda 3 fared in comparison with its own historical impact. Over the course of the previous 29 years, Mazda USA averaged nearly 84,000 annual compact Mazda sales – 2019’s total was 39-percent shy of that average; 59-percent below the 3’s 2012 peak performance.

Finally, there’s a method that involves adding a rider to either one of the first two functions: the Mazda 3 accomplished these ignominious feats as a highly regarded, all-wheel-drive-available, new-generation car. Imagine Ford launching an all-new F-150 and watching sales plummet to a 29-year low.

And yet, could 2020 be even worse for the Mazda 3? An Outback-ified version of the 3, the CX-30, is sliding into the lineup at a time when sales of small crossovers are surging. The Mazda 3 can’t compete with the Civic and Corolla. It can’t compete with its own memory. What if it can’t compete with its own sibling?

The 3’s poor launch was chronicled on these pages throughout 2019. Not helping the cause was the fact that every Mazda besides the CX-5 reported year-over-year declines over the last 12 months. But the 3’s plunge was noteworthy given the car’s freshness, its former status as the No.1 Mazda, and the all-wheel-drive option that, in theory, was going to stem at least a portion of the tide.

Mazda’s semi-premium pricing strategy did the 3 no favours – the average transaction price of a 3 is around $25,000. (Incidentally, without the old 3’s base 2.0-liter engine providing an entry point, the Mazda 3 hatchback’s base price is $1,700 higher than the entry-level CX-30.)

All but eliminating its chances of competing at the low end of this relatively low-end segment clearly lost Mazda sales. That could be anticipated. But they’re sales that weren’t made up elsewhere, and they’re lost sales that ballooned in number. Not since the Mazda Protegé finished its first full year with fewer than 50,000 sales, according to CarSalesBase, has Mazda’s compact competitor fared so poorly in the United States. What about the doldrums of the Great Recession, 10 years ago? Mazda averaged 104,000 3 sales between 2008 and 2010; only dipping slightly into five-digit territory in the dark days of 2009.

The 3’s segment, however, has changed. Dramatically. The disappearance of potential rivals – Dart, Focus, Cruze, Lancer, Verano – appears to have done the Mazda no favours, though their disappearance appears to have created a perfectly acceptable playing field for top-tier compacts.

Mazda seems to have the answer. The CX-30, which with nearly 8 inches of ground clearance is clearly a utility vehicle by modern definitions, appears broader than it is, and masks its small stature with tailgate width and bulky cladding. The CX-30 strides into a segment that’s quadrupled in size over the last half-decade, lending credence to the idea that virtually any vehicle from any automaker can simply show up and sell.

But is it so easy? The subcompact crossover segment is now almost part of the establishment. Competing on behalf of a small automaker such as Mazda requires the CX-30 to be deeply appealing. Based on early reviews, it very much is. And that fact may well cause disastrous ripple effects through Mazda’s small car lineup.

2019 was not a good year for the Mazda 3. 2020 could bring its own series of issues. And where does this leave the CX-3, a flawed driver’s delight that hit a four-year low in 2019? In a few months, we’ll know if the CX-30 is a team player or a cannibal.

[Images: Mazda]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Driving.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.

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3 of 40 comments
  • Sportyaccordy Sportyaccordy on Jan 26, 2020

    Don't understand why they dialed back the dynamics when they knew the CX-30 was coming. What is the 3's raison d etre?

  • Cimarron typeR Cimarron typeR on Jan 27, 2020

    It's pretty simple, the 3 is too small and too expensive. The 6 doesn't have AWD. The cx5 is too long in the tooth. The cx9 is great , but out of reach of most JDM shoppers price range. I'm a big fan of the 3 sedan styling. A perfect car for me would the 3 ext/int. w/ Civic/Corolla sedan dimensions , either the Civics or the Corolla's drivetrains, and the old 3s suspension.

  • BEPLA My own theory/question on the Mark VI:Had Lincoln used the longer sedan wheelbase on the coupe - by leaning the windshield back and pushing the dashboard & steering wheel rearward a bit - not built a sedan - and engineered the car for frameless side windows (those framed windows are clunky, look cheap, and add too many vertical lines in comparison to the previous Marks) - Would the VI have remained an attractive, aspirational object of desire?
  • VoGhost Another ICEbox? Pass. Where are you going to fill your oil addiction when all the gas stations disappear for lack of demand? I want a pickup that I can actually use for a few decades.
  • Art Vandelay Best? PCH from Ventura to somewhere near Lompoc. Most Famous? Route Irish
  • GT Ross The black wheel fad cannot die soon enough for me.
  • Brett Woods My 4-Runner had a manual with the 4-cylinder. It was acceptable but not really fun. I have thought before that auto with a six cylinder would have been smoother, more comfortable, and need less maintenance. Ditto my 4 banger manual Japanese pick-up. Nowhere near as nice as a GM with auto and six cylinders that I tried a bit later. Drove with a U.S. buddy who got one of the first C8s. He said he didn't even consider a manual. There was an article about how fewer than ten percent of buyers optioned a manual in the U.S. when they were available. Visited my English cousin who lived in a hilly suburb and she had a manual Range Rover and said she never even considered an automatic. That's culture for you.  Miata, Boxster, Mustang, Corvette and Camaro; I only want manual but I can see both sides of the argument for a Mustang, Camaro or Challenger. Once you get past a certain size and weight, cruising with automatic is a better dynamic. A dual clutch automatic is smoother, faster, probably more reliable, and still allows you to select and hold a gear. When you get these vehicles with a high performance envelope, dual-clutch automatic is what brings home the numbers.