By on January 24, 2020

2020 Mazda 3 Hatchback grey - Image: MazdaThere 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?

2020 Mazda 3 sedan and hatchback - Image: Mazda USAThe 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. 2020 Mazda CX-30 grey front - Image: MazdaMazda 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 and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.

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40 Comments on “2019 Was the Worst Year for the Mazda 3 Since 1990 – Won’t the CX-30 Make 2020 Even Worse?...”

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    I have never understood the business model of “well we are selling less units than ever”-so let’s move upmarket.

    Mean while all competitors with hardly any marketing support (see Hyundai/KIA Elantra/Forte) are selling in bigger numbers.

    Sounds like a business plan built on sand….

    • 0 avatar

      well, it worked for Studebaker

      for a time

      and then it didn’t

      I believe that Nissan’s discount brand flood the market w/ low pricing hurt Mazda the most, making the upmove the only possible way to survive for Mazda

    • 0 avatar

      Well Tim dumped his sales database to be the PR person for Mazda Canda on TTAC.

      • 0 avatar

        Says the hypocrite who’s been pushing rubbish Buicks here and on every other website he could get himself registered on; with of course the Trifester tune for power and economy found only in far away galaxies. NormT as he styles himself on Canada’s, delivers tone deaf bleatings about low low Buick prices in the US even Americans can’t find there, and has been the subject of hilarity for some years. Since 2010, Norm has been your unofficial Buick pusher on the internet.

        Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

    • 0 avatar

      They’re moving upmarket for the future and for the sake of profit margins. Not to be a volume leader.

    • 0 avatar

      They’re moving upmarket for the future and for the sake of profit margins. Not to be a volume leader.

  • avatar
    Thomas Kreutzer

    The Mazda 3 sedan looks frumpy and the hatchback looks ridiculous. To make things worse, the prices are too close to the 6 and, unless they are making deals, I’m going with the 6.

    I think that premium compact market is about dead now anyhow. People who want econoboxes want cheaper, not nicer. It’s great if cars have more content, but overall if I just want a cheap commuter I really don’t care about how nice it is. Honestly, as someone who once bought a Geo Metro brand new, I think today’s small cars are already pretty amazing in their base trim. If I am choosing to buy a penalty box, why would I need more?

    People who were looking at upscale compacts aren’t choosing a penalty box.
    Since they are buying what they want, why not move on to the little CUVs? If they have that extra money to spend, they want what’s in style right now. Who can blame them?

    • 0 avatar

      Not to mention now that every single person on the road is also in some sort of CUV, unless you like being blinded for 4-5 months out of the year on the way home, the only real answer to to join them. I’ll be hard pressed to stay in a small hatch when I replace it with as many options are appearing in the small CUV ranks.

      • 0 avatar
        Thomas Kreutzer

        Compact CUVs make a lot of sense in today’s world and for exactly the reason you say. You have to sit up high or get blinded by everyone else’s headlights or, on the flip side, have your vision blocked every time an SUV pulls up next to you. An extra six inches or so of height would help that a lot and, since I don’t exactly carve through any canyons these days, not have any real effect on the sorts of driving dynamics I require.

        What’s worse is the way other drivers treat me when I drive our Note vs my truck or van. Constantly on your bumper trying to force you out of the way. I’m just waiting for the sh!tstorm that happens the day someone finally puts me off the road and my angry, big ass rolls out of that little car to confront them.

        • 0 avatar

          I have not had any of those issues you mention of all my years driving in the upper mid-west and it is really no different than the years where conversion vans were all the rage.

    • 0 avatar

      There’s also the issue of diminishing ground clearance in modern sedans and hatchbacks. A real deal-breaker for some of us who drive in the white stuff.

  • avatar

    Mazda is trying to fill the premium mainstream niche, which VW previously tried and gave up on. Unless Mazda is going to try and become an actual luxury brand, they need to have competitive pricing and features with everyone else. I know auto reviewers and internet commentators love fancy interiors, but the average car buyer in the lower price segments just doesn’t care, so Mazda’s premium pricing for premium materials isn’t working. As for the CX-30 cannibalizing the 3, who cares? The RAV4 has cannibalized the Corolla and Camry, but a sale is a sale.

  • avatar

    Like my fellow commenters, the move to premium doesn’t make sense. I wonder if they’re actually listening to their buyers? I have three Mazdas in the driveway now, and likely won’t get another anytime soon. The new interiors are nicer, but I won’t buy Mazda because the interior is nicer. The newer cars are not better driving cars. My 6 year old Mazda6 is a better driver than the new one with the turbo. I found that astonishing. That car *should* have outclassed a similar Accord, but it just can’t keep up. The CX-5 isn’t better enough from a driving perspective to warrant changing out a car that’s only 3 years old.

    I’d really like to see someone challenge Mazda brass on this, because I think they’re killing what the company was about.

    • 0 avatar

      Huh, I found the 2014 Mazda6 to be a tin can on our city street potholes with an unusual rubber mat for the dash top, and the 2014 Accord to give a head-bobbler ride even on new paving – that was often mentioned on Temple of VTEC too. I laughed at how p!ss poor they both were compared to my old 2008 Subaru Legacy GT. Not in the hunt whatsoever. Kept looking for a replacement.

      Since I did buy a 2019 6 turbo, that might give some idea how much better the car now is. Don’t confuse quiet and no rattles, presumably due to the 200 lbs of chassis reinforcements for 2018, with worse handling, whatever that is suposed to mean anyway Finally, I’ll say the engine, which I’ve always run on premium because it’s cheap here, 27 cents a US gallon more than regular, took about 2500 miles to loosen right up. I love dusting off brodozer RAMs crowding me inappropriately — when it’s clear and they want to pass I leave ’em wheezing and their tongue hanging out. The best was the big diesel RAM with blacj exhaust – it was a cakewalk against that slowpoke. The Honda Accord 2.0t has a yip yip engine and turbo (or gear) lag and no way to hold a gear. The 6 goes right now. Accord’s not in the same class interiorwise either. I tried out over two dozen cars because I have the time as a retiree to do so and piss off salesmen before I chose. I love the car. It’s not as good as the LGT was in icy conditions, except when it’s deep snow, because it has 6.5 inches of ground clearance instead of five. I love it, and go for drives just to boot it and rip down the curvy back roads where I live.

      I drove the new 3 in AWD form. It’s a refined pussycat with no sign of life. Apart from the interior, nothing about it moved me. And I presume doesn’t move other potential customers either, despite the fact that the price here in Canada is way lower than those aspirational US prices. My 6 turbo was only a grand more than the top man-cave AWD 3 hatch. No contest.

    • 0 avatar

      Those dropping sales don’t tell the whole story. In a marketplace that’s buying fewer cars — small and other — a company with limited resources like Mazda can’t outcompete Corolla, Elantra and Sentra head-on by selling in volume and passing the savings on to you. The key statistic is sales times margin, and if you’re them, evidently going upmarket is really about the only space available. If they developed the 3 and the MX30 jointly, I’m not sure how much they care which one you buy.

  • avatar

    As someone living in coastal california where parking spaces are being downsized I appreciate a vehicle about the size of a Corolla. Currently my Accord and RAV4, while not that large, push the limits of many parking spaces both on the street, in lots and in garages.

    I would be in the market for an upscale vehicle Corolla sized that is dependable and less than $45K fully optioned.

    The German brands this size that are offered in the US all come in above $45K when decently optioned and maybe $5K more OTD. Also lately these brands have not had great dependability.

    Someone earlier suggested the Mazda 3 and it would certainly be one I would consider but I realize I am in the minority.

  • avatar

    You will lose volume if you move up market, that is a given. Are they making money and are they limited in volume so they have to go up market?

    I don’t think they are ridiculous looking, but people in the segment are looking for reliability (assume Mazda is ok), fuel economy (2.5 won’t do), price (up market won’t do), and or badge (assume Mazda won’t do here).

  • avatar

    they deserve it for screwing with a great car.
    thought nobody could ruin the 3, except the idiot that decided to make it look like the x6, another proportionately horrid design.

    this kinda reminds me of how the studio forced the end of star trek in the sixties…keep making the episodes more and more stupid, then kill it due to ratings.

    and maybe the plan was all along to follow ford’s leading escape from cars to raised wagons.

  • avatar

    Such a shame. last year I had a rental 3 hatch in Europe, it was a revelation in how how to make the perfect small car. A dream to drive, in every way. Even nicer than the Golf VII we had. But from the center pillar back…so weird and unpractical. From inside, trying to look back impossible to see what you are doing.

  • avatar

    It was a great wagonette. It is a crappy 4 door hatch. No D-pillar, no sale. :-(

  • avatar

    I’m more or less expecting to see the same for the Hyundai Sonata.

  • avatar

    I have to say that Mazda should have not gone with the up-market, low volume sales. They definitely have the design down, but the main reason why I don’t like any of the newer Mazdas was the interior room. I was hoping for an improvement, but it’s still as tight as ever. Increase the interior room, improve the ride/handling balance (I have not driven the new 3), and have cheaper/good-value trims, and that should improve sales. It would be bad to have that design and engineering go to waste if Mazda folds.

  • avatar

    Mazda was doing alot better when Ford still had a huge steak in them. Since then with the exception of the cx5 theyve gone downhill.

  • avatar
    Jeff Weimer

    I like the 3 sedan – it’s the most attractive compact car today, and think the hatch is atrocious. I would buy a mid-trim-level (or higher) sedan with manual, but they only offer a stick in the top-line hatch in the US.

    Why Mazda, why?

    • 0 avatar

      “Why Mazda, why?”

      Probably because nobody wants a stick any more. I say that as someone who prefers a stick, but recognizes reality.

      Manual transmissions are doomed to disappear. That is reality.

  • avatar
    Daniel J

    I don’t get the hate on the 3. The sedan IMHO looks better than any compact sedan of the mainstream brands. Many reviewers out there really like it.

    The hatch is odd looking but looks good in some colors and bad in others.

    The CX30 really is a lifted 3. It honestly has a much better interior layout than the CX5 and the driver seat is more comfortable. It falls apart with rear seat legroom and the cladding. Sizewise, it’s more like aCRV from two generations back.

    • 0 avatar

      No irs.
      Poor visability.
      High price.

      Sporty buyers go civic, boring buyers go corolla, cheap buyers go nissan or hyundai/kia. Theres no market for an upscale japanese brand when an accord or camry can be had for the same price.

  • avatar

    1. This is totally impressive to sell 50K Proteges in 15M market vs 17M today

    2. Sure, 2012. That Masda3 was probably most reliable car ever, cheap and great 2 drive

    3. As soon as they came with the specs on this ‘3 I predicted a huge failure. Thanks

  • avatar

    Man, I loved my old Mazda 3 hatch, but this? It’s like a Dodge Magnum and an AMC Pacer had a baby: a blob with gun-slit windows. Bring back the wagonette.

  • avatar

    This is not hard to figure out. With the redesign, the 3 lost the “special feel”
    it had that previously made it THE enthusiast pick. The price was bumped up significantly in a price sensitive market segment and the Mazda3 “hunchback” is just plain ugly, coupled with poor visibility to boot.

  • avatar

    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?

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    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.

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