By on January 6, 2020

Too bad about the others. After admitting that it probably should have reconsidered the new-for-2019 Mazda 3’s U.S. pricing strategy, the Hiroshima-based automaker can sit back and look at last year’s results in full. Topping that page is a 7.2 percent sales decline — the result of volume slippage among all nameplates but one.

Nothing beats a compact crossover for surefire popularity.

We shouldn’t say that — recall, if you will, the Infiniti QX50 saga. Happily for Mazda, its continuously improved CX-5 crossover can’t seem to make an enemy, be it among the motoring press or the buying public.

In 2019, the CX-5 was the only Mazda-badged model to post a sales gain — a slim jump of 2.6 percent for the year — proving once again that the CX-5’s appeal is the broadest of any model in Mazda’s modest lineup. Recent additions like a turbocharged 2.5-liter engine, a 2.2-liter diesel (the jury’s out on this long-delayed mill’s draw), and styling and content alterations has only positioned the model for further success. Since its introduction in 2012, the CX-5 has managed to add volume each year. Now, with brandwide volume on the decline, the CX-5’s presence is growing in other ways, too.

Last year, 55.5 percent of all Mazdas leaving dealer lots were CX-5s. A year ago, the model’s take was an almost even 50 percent.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Skyactiv-D - Image: Mazda

Elsewhere in the lineup, products couldn’t catch a break. The 3’s well documented fall from grace following an attractive refresh and addition of all-wheel drive continued apace. Volume for the compact sedan and hatch fell 39.8 percent in December, pushing its full-year total 21.5 percent below 2018’s tally. The subcompact CX-3 and larger, more opulent CX-9 fell 4 and 4.9 percent, respectively, for the year.

Mazda MX-5 buyers weren’t seeking as many two-seat thrills last year, with the lightweight fun machine finding 13.6 percent fewer adopters. The still-sexy 6 sedan, updated with an optional turbo engine too late in its lifespan, posted a 30-percent drop in 2019. Nothing more needs to be said of the state of the mainstream midsize sedan market; you all know the grim reality of that segment.

As disappointing as the 3’s 2019 sales plunge is to Mazda brass, there’s a silver lining to be found in the full-year sales sheet: the appearance of a new model in the form of the tweener CX-30. Adding sales only in the final days of November, the CX-30 is months away from being up to speed, so we don’t yet know its impact on the overall sales picture. The additional volume the CX-30 stands to deliver is no doubt appreciated at Mazda HQ, and there’s more to come.

A new Mazda crossover will roll out of a joint Alabama assembly plant shared with Toyota next year. It’s assumed the vehicle will target a broad swath of society in the midsize or near-midsize realm, capturing would-be buyers who find the CX-5 too small and the CX-9 too tony. That latter model stands to gain a revamp for 2022, potentially growing in size to make more room for the new member of the Mazda clan.

[Images: Mazda]

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33 Comments on “Thank Heaven for Little (but Not Too Little) Crossovers: At Mazda, One Segment Didn’t Disappoint...”

  • avatar

    First photo: I WANT license plates like that one!

  • avatar

    Mazda if you really want to capture a unique market and satisfy a lot of previous happy owners, bring back the 3 and 6 sedan with manual transmission in all trims! Keep the naturally aspirated motors too!
    … If you ask anyone, they will tell you that Toyota is probably the best and most reliable car to buy. And Honda used to share that consideration until they went to the turbo assisted motors. And stay away from any CVT transmission. Stick with the “we know what works” transmission and motors and put the “zoom-zoom” back into the cars you offer! I am still driving my 2006 Mazda3 5speed manual and it is still fun to drive! I just want something as good to replace it. :)

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff Weimer

      I’d honestly consider a 3 if they offered a mid-trim sedan with a 6-speed stick.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Not a chance. The 3% take rate (my guess) for such cars would be a cost that Mazda cannot afford to bear, and manuals hurt CAFE ratings in today’s cars. Given Mazda’s 2019 sales of the 6 and 3, this would amount to less than 2200 stick-shift cars – not worth the engineering and support costs.

      The other problem with sedans today is that people tend to ‘graduate’ out of them and into CUVs/SUVs once they have families or get older. This leave younger buyers burdened with student loans, who end up buying used cars, anyway.

      • 0 avatar

        I think Mazda may be too big for it to matter, but I would suggest that they would see a much higher take rate for manuals as other options disappear. The low take rate has everything to do with availability, which is driven by CAFE and how fuel economy is calculated on the EPA test. That’s why there are so many automatics that have gears that make no sense in the real world.

        Alfa Romeo may have succeeded with manuals available in everything, because 10% of a segment with a high manual take rate would have made them viable as the Germans concentrate on renters cruising for rent boys because automatics can be programmed to game the EPA test cycle and manuals cannot without the dreaded skip-shift.

      • 0 avatar

        Much as I love me some manual transmissions (currently drive one…though not a Mazda), I agree. The buying public has largely spoken, and manuals aren’t being “voted” with dollars all too often anymore. I do hope the likes of Mazda and others do keep manuals around, as I’ll always want one. But I’m in the minority and don’t occupy the larger space of consumers that ultimately pay the bills.

        No, what hurt Mazda was the attempt to move upmarket (and the ensuing price jumps) in an already crowded field where Mazda was already far behind the leaders of the pack.

    • 0 avatar
      Daniel J

      Oh good grief. Manuals will not save Mazda. The problem from what I’ve heard from our dealer is that people don’t feel they are “as” reliable as Toyota or Honda, but they aren’t wheeling and dealing like H/K or Nissan. People will pay for the upfront cost of a Honda or Toyota or will pay less now and take the hit later with a more value slotted brand. The only reason the CX-5 is selling well is that the CX-5 is head and shoulders above everything else and even the value players aren’t wheeling and dealing on SUVs.

  • avatar

    Hideous blob of a Mazda 3 hatch; pretentious faux luxury at an outrageous price. Little emphasis on the zoom and the thought they could compete with BMW with that flaccid lineup. This brand used to be simple; now it is stuffy, hideous, overpriced, and offers a product line that is less compelling with each year. I am glad their strategy has failed.

  • avatar

    I’ve owned many Mazdas. I still very much like them.

    Mazda’s problem is not the vehicles. They’re excellent, extremely reliable, get excellent real-world economy, etc.

    The problem is the rest of it.

    The dealer network has dwindled. In my neck of the woods there used to be 3 Mazda dealers, including one in town just as far as any Ford or Toyota or Honda dealer. I now would have to travel farther to a Mazda dealer than Lexus, Mercedes, Porsche, Jaguar/LandRover, or BMW.

    My experience in said dealers was always that nobody really was trying to sell Mazdas. They always seemed to know a lot more about the VWs and Subarus at the same dealership. The Mazda’s were just “there” for any freak Mazda customer that walked in and already knew what they wanted.

    Pricing I think is a problem. Face it, Americans love “deals” and shop on monthly payments (as silly, financially, as that might be). If Mazda isn’t willing to get you in an 8 year loan for $500 down and $200/month (or whatever it may be)….well then those people just go buy the Corolla or Sentra or Camry or Fusion or whatever else where Toyota/Nissan/Ford are throwing cash on hoods and subsidizing leases. 95% of people couldn’t feel the slightest difference between a Mazda and a Toyota, much less care even if they could feel a difference.

    Mazda3, besides the segment issue, was just STUPID the way the car has been packaged and priced. Mazda buyers are looking, I think, for a good solid car, that is slightly fun to drive, with at least manual somewhat available, for a fair price. I was very interested in the new 3….until I realized that I’d have to shell out $28k or whatever for a manual trans FWD compact hatchback. Insanity. Then ignore the manual aspect….for that money and the deals from other manufacturers, I could easily get myself into a much larger, more comfy Camry or Fusion etc. If I’m skipping the manual trans anyway, I might as well get some room and comfort for my purchase.

    I don’t think there is saving the 3 or 6 from sales drops just because of the market direction. But they would do themselves some favors to offer some lower priced options out there, especially on the 3. The 2.0L was a solid car at a very good price.

    Adding more crossovers, I hate to say, is the right move. Even if I can’t figure out how companies keep slicing and dicing the CUV market into smaller segments (are the CX-30, CX-5 really different enough? Will the new CX-7 or whatever really be that much different from a CX-5 or CX-9?)

    Really, Mazda, especially if they’re not gonna offer the deals, is going to need to bring up their dealership experiences if they want the prices they’re gonna charge. To me, this is where everything revolves with them. Either be premium in every way, or start offering lower prices if your dealerships aren’t going to be premium along with the cars.

    I hope they have the time and cash to see this premium move through. Unfortunately many companies panic. We will see what Mazda does.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “We will see what Mazda does.”

      One thing they’re doing is doubling down on the rotary, now hoping for it to find a home as a hybrid range extender in somebody’s vehicle, not necessarily their own. This is an egregious waste of resources.

      • 0 avatar
        Guy A

        You harp on about the rotary. I can see why it may be wasted resource but I would not expect it to be a big amount of their R&D.

        You could say having a unique, model specific RWD platform for the MX5 only is also a waste as I can’t imagine they make much money bey on a vehicle with a 50,000 global sales rate.

        Additionally people keep asking for manuals, the same people who said adding the turbo engine would make a difference to the sales performance if the 6. We know how that worked out.

    • 0 avatar

      Your middle paragraph is exactly my call to Mazda – I go check some cheap cars and the one that is not horribly unreliable but definitely fun to drive – I take it. Mazda was “it” for decades. Now they don’t have many attributes I used to buy them for

      – cheap
      – good handling/road holding (lost independent suspension in rear)
      – MT (only one version has it)
      – Made in Japan (Mexico now)
      – Good MPG (lost smaller engines)

      – it also used to have “everything you need, nothing you don’t” packages. For example, in 2011 to get Bluetooth in Civic, I had to go for 21K EX. But Mazda packaged it into 18K iTouring

    • 0 avatar

      “I was very interested in the new 3….until I realized that I’d have to shell out $28k or whatever for a manual trans FWD compact hatchback. Insanity.”


      “Adding more crossovers, I hate to say, is the right move. Even if I can’t figure out how companies keep slicing and dicing the CUV market into smaller segments (are the CX-30, CX-5 really different enough? Will the new CX-7 or whatever really be that much different from a CX-5 or CX-9?)”

      People are really just that stupid.

      “Either be premium in every way, or start offering lower prices if your dealerships aren’t going to be premium along with the cars.”

      I agree. In their case, they spend another xxx per unit to raise the price xxxx per unit and then did not address the dealer issues at all while simultaneously dropping options like a manual. Manual thing aside, which they may have done anyway, literally do as little as possible to have an excuse to raise prices and pretend to be premium.

  • avatar

    You’ll have to move downunder! Mazda 3 & CX-3 all come with the choice of 6-speed manual or auto.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    I daily a 2015 Mazda6 Touring with manual trans. My wife daily drives a 2011 CX-9, and our neighbor is still driving the 2001 MPV I sold him. I am a Mazda fan.

    That said, each of my Mazda’s has had one or three flaws which I feel have prevented them from mass market appeal. The MPV with the 2.5L Duratech and 4 sp auto trans was a pisspoor drivetrain for the minivan–weak, and the gear ratio’s poorly matched to the vehicle. I loved everything else about it.

    The CX-9 is thristy, and entry and egress from front seats requires an awkward tilt of head to escape bonking my head.

    My M6 shares the poor entry and egress of CX-9, and has a ride too firm for mass market appeal–handling be damned. If you want to sell cars in the Camry segment, better to field a car that rides in a similar manner.

    As it stands, Mazda will never move past 1-3% US market share unless it develops products better suited to the US mass market with fewer glaring flaws.

  • avatar

    “capturing would-be buyers who find the CX-5 too small and the CX-9 too tony.”

    What does “too tony” mean?
    Or is that a typo for ??? xxxx ???

    I would like to order a new Mazda6 with Toyota’s 3.5L v6 and a manual transmission. Can you make me one of those please?

  • avatar

    The 3’s pricing is absolutely out of line – especially given the downgraded rear suspension. And while many consider the hatch to be “gorgeous”, some of us find the styling downright homely. Factor in the visibility challenges with such a design, and it’s no surprise the car is struggling.

  • avatar

    If Mazda makes sedans in other parts of the country, why can’t they let us USA citizens special order one? I understand if you don’t want to put it on a dealer’s lot to sit until I come to buy it but why cam’t I order one? (with a manual)

  • avatar

    It appears to me that Mazda’s continued presence in the USDM is more of a “point of honor” to remain and less of a serious attempt to increase sales/market share. The current scheme of raising prices to depict their vehicles as some sort of “premium” or “entry-level lux” seems to be a stab at some sort of positive ROI on the <25% of their total world-wide production that is sold in the US thus bolstering and justifying this "point of honor" and somehow supporting the fiction that Mazda is a relevant player. Putting maybe $200 or so per vehicle (if that) into better interior materials and electronics of what is basically a low-priced brand and to present it as "entry-level lux" while raising the price by thousands seems to be a desperate measure.

    • 0 avatar

      ” Putting maybe $200 or so per vehicle (if that) into better interior materials and electronics of what is basically a low-priced brand and to present it as “entry-level lux” while raising the price by thousands seems to be a desperate measure.”
      A similar strategy has worked for Cadillac for decades.
      Chevy + gadgets + soundproofing = Cadillac

  • avatar

    Marketing is a big problem for Mazda. Their niche has been people who actually care about design and performance. The current “Feel Alive” campaign is downright annoying.

  • avatar

    I own a 2004 orange mazda3S.
    And 09 6S GT.
    A 2017 3S purchased for my brother.
    and IMO, the earlier mazdas were the better.
    A few months back the 6 was in the shop for a recall (AGAIN!)and i was given the 2019 to drive home.
    It was such a let down. Sluggish and the really fun feel was gone. It was harder to see out of than I expected.
    The next day they gave me the NEW hatch…and OMG!, it was horrible.Completely claustrophobic inside.
    Couldn’t see a thing and it was so damn wrong in my hands.

    Once back home, I took the old 2004 out. Fun. It seemed even faster than the newer ones. Don’t know why, perhaps the feeling made it so.

    But IF I needed to get another 3…it would be something in the earlier build.

    My fav to drive will always bethe 09 6S. fun and feels so damn good to take off in. HOWEVER…the damn thing is falling apart all the time.
    Mostly electrical stuff. Now the horn alarm keeps going off at odd times.
    The airbag switches are always under warranty recalls.
    Rubber falling out from rear windows.
    Leather on driver seat just up and dissipated.

    Oh, what QUALITY #1 at that Ford plant must have been on 09 production!!!

  • avatar

    Two major problems will prevent Mazda success, and it’s not their cars.
    Dealer network: sparse and shitty. Everywhere I’ve lived in the USA the Mazda place was always the most run down facility with the sleaziest sales people and worst service. You can’t go “upscale” with that.
    National Incentives: Their financing and leasing programs, when they offer them, are a joke. They just don’t want to play in this space, where a huge number of vehicle buying decisions are made.
    No matter how good their products may be, all aspects of the customer experience need major overhaul if they’re going to be relevant.

  • avatar

    Unfortunately, I think the turbo engines and CVTs are here to stay, simply because of corporate fuel economy standards. And manual transaxles are probably on their way out, because (as has been stated above), the take rate of people who actually enjoy driving is so low; everyone seems to want cars that drive themselves. More time on the iphone (or for whatever the boss is making you do), you see?

    I hope Mazda still has a future.

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