Mazda Premium is the objective for the Mazda brand in the future. Mazda realizes it is a mainstream brand but wants to become premium. In the minds of the car buyer, Mazda competes with Toyota, Honda and Nissan. Mazda has limited resources and needs to husband them. To achieve Mazda Premium positioning, its products must be executed to meet or beat premium brand competitors. This requires targeted benchmarking against more expensive vehicles in the same product category.
CX-5 Latest Mazda Premium Vehicle At the press launch of the 2017 Mazda CX-5 mid-size crossover SUV (XSUV) in San Diego, Mazda detailed its competitive strategy. The Mazda product development team did not closely benchmark the usual suspects. The CX-5 will be sold against Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage. To go against premium brands, the CX-5 team benchmarked luxury brand XSUVs like Audi Q3, BMW X1, Lexus NX, Mercedes GLA. To show how deep they have benchmarked premium XSUVs, the Jaguar F-Pace was even included on one comparison chart.
The new Mazda CX-5 is a 5-passenger XSUV slotted below the 7-passenger CX-9 introduced last year. The CX-5 completes Mazda’s evolution to its Kudo design theme that stresses the “soul of motion”. The styling is striking and clearly differentiated from its German and Japanese competitors. Mazda states that “every element has been designed to be in a class above”.
To demonstrate the superiority of the premium-designed CX-5 over its luxury competition, Mazda provided these premium vehicles as comparisons to drive through downtown San Diego. While we cannot yet discuss the driving experience, we can reveal that the CX-5 arguably looks and drives better than premium brand XSUVs costing about $10,000 more.
In reality, it will take years for Mazda to achieve premium brand status. Executed consistently and effectively, Mazda Premium will ultimately achieve a stronger image with Mazda dealers and customers. Mazda Premium will allow Mazda to achieve higher per-unit profitability. Ultimately, Mazda Premium will allow Mazda to be positioned at a premium brand like Acura or Buick if all goes as planned. Competing against Audi, BMW, Lexus, Jaguar and Mercedes is still a ways off.
Jeep sold about 1.4 million SUVs in 2016 and has 2 million Jeeps in its sights. It is going to take until 2020 or so to sell 2 million Jeeps per year.
At an event showcasing the all new 2017 Jeep Compass, Mike Manley, Head of Jeep, detailed the evolution of Jeep production that could achieve global sales objectives of 2 million Jeeps by 2020. The Compass is a crossover SUV positioned above the B-Segment Renegade and below the D-Segment Cherokee. Actually, the Cherokee is more of a C/D Segment vehicle. Cherokee is not really big enough to be a full D-Segment vehicle. At the top of the lineup is the Grand Cherokee which is the heart of Jeep DNA for now.
Jeep’s Capacity Story
There is a dance of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US (FCA) plants that is going to realize substantially more Jeep production. The dance goes like this…
- FCA kills Dodge Dart, Jeep Patriot and the old Jeep Compass produced at their huge 407,000 unit capacity plant in Belvidere, Illinois. Cherokee moves from Toledo, Ohio to Belvidere in 2017. Estimate a maximum production of Cherokee at 250,000 units. This means there is room for another vehicle “not yet announced” at Belvidere, says Manley.
- Toledo adds all new Wrangler off-road SUV during 2017. Wrangler is selling so well it needs more capacity, but not as much as relieved by moving Cherokee to Belvidere. Jeep adds a Wrangler-based pickup to Toledo to fill capacity. This also satisfies demand from dealers and customers for a Jeep pickup.
- The all-new 2017 Jeep Compass is launched with assembly plants in four countries: Mexico, India, Brazil and China. The Mexican plant will supply North America and left hand drive Europe. The Indian plant will satisfy demand from right hand drive countries including the U.K, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Jeep has high expectations for the new Compass as the assembly plant count confirms.
- Jeep is adding a Jeep Wagoneer to the lineup. Manley mentions that this could be a “line of Wagoneers” implying that there could be a Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer in Jeep’s future. Wagoneer will be a body-on-frame SUV. It will be based on the next-generation Ram pickup but with independent rear suspension. Manley agrees that “Ford went the right way when they added independent rear suspension to their Expedition to get a great 3rd row seat”. The speculation is that Wagoneer will be added to FCA’s Sterling Heights assembly plant. Sterling Heights is being shifted to Ram pickup production after the Chrysler 200 sedan was killed. The 200 was the only vehicle in Sterling Heights and never achieved anything like FCA’s hoped for volumes.
- That leaves the “mystery vehicle” to take up the additional capacity at Belvidere.
Given all this attention to plants and plant capacity, 2 million Jeeps looks plausible by the next decade.
Source: George Peterson, AutoPacific
2017 Jeep Compass in Brief
Based on driving and living with the all-new 2017 Jeep Compass for a short time, the Compass will attract robust sales. Compass styling is very much traditional Jeep with the seven vertical slot grille, trapezoidal wheel arches and a strong overall style. Compass has a unique floating roof character that has been adopted from everybody from the Jaguar XJ, Lexus RX SUV, Nissan Murano to the GMC Acadia SUV. The Compass is one of the only vehicles in white where this really looks cool.
The Compass interior is excellent in the mid-range Latitude model, the top-of-the-line Limited and the aggressive Trailhawk model. Front seat comfort is outstanding for a vehicle in this class. The seats are firm without being too stiff. Visibility is excellent from the driver’s seat. Everything is easy to reach and see. Ergonomically, Jeep designers and engineers have done an excellent job.
Compass is powered by the 2.4L Tigershark 4-cylinder engine with 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque. In North America there are three transmissions. 4×2 models get a 6-speed automatic. 4×4 models get a 9-speed automatic. Both 4×2 and 4×4 models are available with manual transmissions. Manual transmission availability is getting rarer and rarer these days. Likely the wide global distribution of the Compass makes the 6-speed manual readily available.
Performance on-road is adequate. A 2.0L Turbo 4-cylinder with 230-250 horsepower would always be welcome in a vehicle like the Compass. Off-road, navigating a very technical course, the Compass is very capable. Clearly, retaining Jeep DNA for off-road fun was an important feature in the development of the Compass.
Image Source: George Peterson
When a Chevrolet manager refers to the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, they inevitably hold up two fingers to guarantee you know they are referring to the Volt. When they mention the Chevrolet Bolt EV electric vehicle, they always say “Bolt EV”. “Bolt EV did well in focus groups,” one PR manager stated. Having done thousands of focus groups over the years, I know how that can be done.
Well, enough of that. The Chevrolet Bolt EV is the real deal. It is an electric vehicle purpose-built around a five module battery pack that forms the floor of the car. These batteries give a maximum range of 238 miles. AutoPacific’s research on electric vehicles over the years has concluded that the holy grail for EV range is 225 miles to avoid range anxiety. So Bolt EV achieves that range with a little to spare.
The designed-in-South Korea Bolt EV is a crossover SUV in Chevrolet’s mind. I see it as more of a 5-door hatchback, but Chevrolet contends its higher seating position and relatively high roof deserve a crossover classification. Besides, crossovers are selling like hotcakes these days and cars are not. Bolt EV looks modern with forward sloping character lines that you could see on a crossover today. OK, it’s a crossover.
The Bolt EV is spacious enough for four people. Getting in and out is relatively easy but the front A-Pillars are so fast that you have to be careful to duck or else you will hit your head. The instrument panel in the top model includes a reconfigurable instrument cluster and a 10.2 inch screen in the center stack that provides all the information concerning its electric operation and the usual connectivity features like Bluetooth. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are how you get navigation in the car. There is no resident NAV. The Bolt EV is available with the typical General Motors driver assistance features like adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, lane keeping warning, surround view camera, blind spot warning, etc.
The real surprise comes when driving the Bolt EV. Its powerpack provides 200-horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque. This output is like a peppy 1.6L or 1.8L turbo 4-cylinder in a hot hatch small car. Bolt EV does not have to apologize to anyone on the freeway. The car can be operated in “one-foot mode” where regenerative braking is activated. This would be my normal driving mode. When you lift off the accelerator, the brakes engage to put electricity back into the batteries. The deceleration can be controlled by a paddle behind the steering wheel. Using regen, you rarely have to actually press on the brake pedal.
No new car is perfect and the Bolt EV is not. Where it falls down is in the material selection in the interior. Lots of hard, glossy plastic. The lightweight front seats are very hard and the side bolsters are stiff.
The base price of the Bolt EV is $37,495 that results in a $29,995 price after the federal government tax credit (you have to earn about $75,000 to qualify for that tax credit). If you load the Bolt EV up with all the options, it will top out at around $44,000.
Bolt is on sale now in California and Oregon and will roll out nationally over the year.
Source: Ford Motor Company
Ford is updating its iconic sporty coupe giving us a more aggressive Mustang for 2018. In industry parlance this could be termed a “front and rear six” meaning the front and rear six inches of the car has been changed. The 2018 change is a bit more than that. The front end is the main contributor to the more aggressive Mustang look. The standard LED headlamps flank a redesigned grille which has a new sporty texture. The front fenders, front fascia, and hood are all new. In the rear end, the taillamp graphics are tweaked a bit, not so you’d notice.
Source: Ford Motor Company
The big news in the interior is that the car is now available with a 12-inch re-configurable instrument cluster display. The display has been lifted from the new Continental luxury car but conveys different information. This is the “modern” way to go and also demonstrates that the costs of these electronic features are coming down dramatically and quickly. In addition to the cluster, the seat trim sew patterns have been updated. There is an available heated steering wheel and the center console has been upgraded with padded knee bolsters. Ford also adds Driver Assistance features as options such as adaptive cruise control, lane keeping warning and lane keeping assist.
Under the hood, the 3.7L V6 is gone and the 5.0L V8 has been upgraded. Ford has not yet provided the specifics. Similarly, the 2.3L EcoBoost 4-cylinder turbo has been upgraded. There is a 10-speed automatic transmission available, but the the folks who think manual transmissions are appropriate for a sporty coupe, a 6-speed manual is still available. The chassis has been upgraded to provide more nimble handling.
Ford has been producing the Mustang continuously for over fifty years. The car has gone through tough times and was almost killed on more than one occasion. Even when Chevrolet killed the Camaro, Pontiac killed the Firebird and Dodge killed the Challenger, Mustang stayed the course. There have been a few half-hearted efforts in the history of Mustang, but the 2018 promises to improve the breed. This update is a mid-cycle change that means we should see a major update in 2020 or 2021.
Honda has imposed an embargo for the new Honda CR-V on technical specifications, driving impressions and pricing, so we can only describe the vehicle and its competitive position in generalities. The embargo lifts on November 30, 2016.
New Honda CR-V – all new for 2017 with distinctive front end styling.
Honda Assures Continued Success in Entry XSUV Market The all new Honda CR-V is an impressive compact crossover SUV. A pillar of Honda’s product lineup that includes Accord, Civic and Odyssey, the CR-V sells almost 400,000 units per year. Strong competitors include the Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape. The Nissan Rogue is starting to make waves as well. The entry crossover SUV category has become the best selling class of vehicle in the United States. Entry crossover SUV sales are higher than mid-size cars. The popularity of the segment, and how good this new CR-V is, has led Honda to add more assembly capacity at its Indiana assembly plant in 2017.
Sport utility vehicles have evolved from the hardcore 4x4s of the 1970s to the very easy-t0-live with crossover SUVs of today. Responding to customer demand for better ride, better fuel economy, the latest electronic and infotainment features, the new crossovers have taken the market by storm. They are now the vehicles of choice for most female buyers.
In the development of the new Honda CR-V, Honda benchmarked the European BMW X3 to give this mainstream crossover a luxury feel. They clearly have higher aspirations for the vehicle. Also, given the sales volume of the CR-V, Honda added standard features in lower trim levels. Cost efficiencies are substantial when a product approaches the 400,000 unit volume level.
New Honda CR-V – all new for 2017 with more muscular styling
More Aggressive Than Past Hondas Sounding like a Big Three manufacturer of yore, the new Honda CR-V is longer, wider and higher than before. It has a new turbocharged 4-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable transmission on all but its base LX trim level. The looks of the new Honda CR-V are an upward evolution of its predecessor. Styling is more aggressive with more character in the hood and body panels. The grille is much more aggressive than previously and follows the trend adopted by the new Honda Pilot XSUV and Ridgeline pickup. The wheel openings are more muscular to accommodate larger tires and wheels.
More Upscale than Typical for This Class Comparing the new Honda CR-V with the RAV4 and Escape, the CR-V comes across as a product in a class above. The finish is outstanding, the interior has been substantially upgraded with soft touch materials in critical areas. As usual, the new Honda CR-V is an ergonomic tour de force. Visibility from the driver’s seat is excellent. Reach to the controls is intuitive. The large electronic instrument cluster is brilliantly lit and provides necessary information. Responding to customer complaints, the new Honda CR-V adds back a volume control knob for the audio system replacing the slider used previously. The rear seat is larger than in its predecessor and Honda describes the interior space in the new Honda CR-V as being best in class.
High Volume EX Trim Loaded with Features The highest volume trim level will be the EX one step above the base LX. The level of equipment on this model is impressive. Honda includes Honda Sensing, blind spot warning and cross traffic warning as part of the EX trim level. Honda Sensing includes adaptive cruise control with low speed follow, collision mitigation braking system, road departure mitigation, and lane keeping assist. The Honda-exclusive Lane Watch video camera system has been abandoned for the new Honda CR-V. Blind spot information replaces Lane Watch because owners want blind spot information on both sides of the car and the right-side-only Lane Watch system couldn’t be adapted to show the left side as well.
Best Selling Honda? Given the excellence of the latest generation CR-V, and the additional production capacity being added, it would not be surprising if the CR-V becomes Honda’s top-selling vehicle.
This is the second time I have attended The Quail, a Motorsports Gathering and it did not disappoint. Held at The Quail Lodge and Golf Club in Carmel, California, the event drew 5,000 attendees. Cars and motorsports are supposed to be the highlight of the event, but food, drink and people are even more interesting. The attendees were enthusiasts, collectors, owners and motorsports personalities. Some of the vehicles on display had their owners hovering nearby. Other vehicles had their attendants close to make sure spectators did not touch them. Some of the restorers had worked on the cars for years and were bringing them out in public for the first time since the restoration was complete. Getting more popular all the time are “barn finds”. These are vehicles that have not been restored to a level never even attained from the factory. They have their fifty, sixty, seventy or eighty year patina intact.
There were over 250 vehicles to gaze at. Most were luxury and sporting marques like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bugatti, Rolls Royce, Bentley. One of the highlights was the new Bugatti Chiron in a deep French blue with a highly chromed character line sweeping up the A-Pillar along the door and then down and back forward towards the front fender. Very dramatic. Framing the Chiron was a “sea” of Bugatti Veyrons in a rainbow of colors.
While The Quail is an event for individuals to showcase their vehicles, corporate displays seem to be on the upswing as well. Bugatti showcased the Chiron. Bentley showed off the Bentayga and the new Mulsanne. Acura was there celebrating 30 years on the market. BMW was celebrating its 100th Anniversary. Cadillac was featuring its CTS-V. Alfa Romeo featured the 4C and upcoming Guilia sedan. Singer, the classic Porsche upfitter, had a small display and a large crowd.
My favorite display was the Bowlus travel trailer hitched to a Bentley Bentayga. This all-aluminum $219,000 travel trailer is reminiscent of an aluminum Airstream but is totally high tech. The Bowlus folks say you can live off the grid for two weeks in their travel trailer and be totally comfortable.
The Quail is a signature event for Peninsula Hotels. Six Peninsula hotels had a spectacular pavilion with gourmet food appropriate from their cities – Bangkok, Beijing, Chicago, Beverly Hills, Paris, and New York. Most people probably couldn’t get through all six pavilions. While all six of the Peninsula pavilions were outstanding, perhaps the best was Beijing with great food and music to set the ambiance for a truly luxurious experience.
Image by: George Peterson
Infiniti QX30 Launched One of the fastest growing product segments is the Luxury Small Crossover SUV (XSUV) category. Infiniti has been a bit late to the party as there are already 33 small XSUVs on the market. Eight of those are luxury brand XSUVs: the Acura RDX has been out since 2013 in its second incarnation, Audi Q3 out since 2014, BMW X1 out since 2014, Land Rover Discovery Sport out since 2016, Lexus NX200t out since 2015, Lincoln MKC out since 2015, Mercedes GLA since 2015, Range Rover Evoque out since 2012. Launch of the Infiniti QX30, while a bit late, pretty much has every brand in the fray.
Infiniti enters the fray with the Infiniti QX30, making it the 34th member in the small XSUV market and 9th luxury brand XSUV. Remember, QX is the Infiniti nomenclature for SUVs whether they are body-on-frame SUVs (QX80) or crossover SUVs (QX70, QX60, QX50). Infiniti cars carry names that begin with a simple “Q”.
All USA QX30s Classified as Trucks The Infiniti QX30 is a highly styled small crossover available in front wheel drive and all wheel drive powertrain configurations. In other markets the all drive model is called “Q30” indicating Infiniti is classifying it as an hatchback car. In the USA, both versions are classified as trucks.
Dramatic Infiniti Design Cues Differentiate QX30 The Infiniti QX30 is sporty and curvaceous like most Infiniti models. It has bulging front fenders sweeping back and down with a strong character line. Infiniti decribes the character lines as “dramatic and turbulent”. The windshield is very fast flowing into a steeply dropping roofline. The front end is instantly recognizable as an Infiniti with its unique “double-arch” grille. In the side view, Infiniti’s signature crescent-shaped C-pillar further differentiates the vehicle. There is a lot going on there, but it works very well in this small XSUV.
Infiniti QX30 and Mercedes GLA Share Platform To keep the investment in line the Infiniti QX30 is assembled in Sunderland, England alongside the Mercedes-Benz GLA. QX30 and GLA share platforms, but Infiniti has loaded its entry with all the latest high tech electronic gadgetry available.
Engine Power at the Low End of Competitive Range The 2.0L 4-cylinder turbocharged engine is shared with the GLA and is manufactured by Daimler in Kolleda, Germany. Power output is 208 horsepower with 258 lb-ft of torque. Compared with other luxury XSUVs this power output is anemic. Driving the QX30, the performance is adequate, even pleasant, but a power output of between 230 and 240 horsepower would be more expected from an engine with these specifications.
The engine is mated to a 7-speed dual clutch transmission.
Ford’s F-Series Super Duty pickups are all new for the 2017 model year. The Super Duty line includes the F-250, F-350, F-450 and F-550 heavy duty pickups.
All-New For Real The term all new here is an actual fact because the last time the Super Duty was all new was over a decade ago. The high volume F-150 light duty full size pickup was all new and all aluminum for 2016. The Super Duty follows a year later, but Ford says the product update cadence should be shorter for both the F-150 and the Super Duties in the future.
Image by: George Peterson
Borrows from F-150, Then Goes on Steroids For this iteration the Super Duty pickups share the aluminum cabs of the F-150 – regular cab, Super Cab and Crew Cab. Each of these cabs is longer than that on the old Super Duty. Then everything changes. The front end styling is very different, tougher and stronger looking than the pretty darn strong looking F-150. The pickup box is upgraded to handle the more severe workload of a vehicle designed for construction crews and trailer towing. The fully-boxed frame has been substantially upgraded with the center section frame rails 1.5 inches taller than previously.
Venerable Twin-I-Beam Suspension Retained and Upgraded The Twin-I-Beam front suspension has been upgraded and remains a very important Super Duty unique selling proposition. According to Doug Scott, head of Ford truck marketing, there was a lot of discussion about retaining the venerable, but very strong Twin-I-Beam front suspension. There was one contingent within Ford that wanted a more contemporary front suspension similar to Chevrolet Silverado. But buyers of the Super Duty rely on the over-designed Twin-I-Beam for durability in extreme abuse situations. Super-computer simulations of the suspension design have eliminated the quirkiness of the previous set-up that tended to wander a bit on the open road.
Unique Interior Although the Super Duty shares the F-150’s cabs, the interior in the Super Duty is unique to the line. The “Active Motion” seats are designed for heavier duty application and long seat time. They are comfortable for hours on the road. The instrument panel is unique and much more industrial looking than in the F-150. There is a wide center console that can accommodate files or a laptop computer. The console top is an armrest in normal driving or a desk when necessary.
Feature Laden The list of available advanced features is an arm long. Most would be expected in an up-market car, but in a heavy duty pickup they are extraordinary. Super Duty gets Sync 3 available with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There is a 360-degree camera set-up that is extremely useful when parking or off-roading. Activating the camera allows you to see the obstacles near the vehicle and avoid them. The Super Duty can have as many as SEVEN cameras. Lane departure warning, blind spot information and adaptive cruise control systems are available. Adaptive steering is available that adjusts the steering ratio based on driver input.
Powerful Power Stroke Diesel is the Volume Engine Choice The available powertrains include the second generation Power Stroke diesel that will be the high volume engine. The 6.7L V8 diesel has 440-horsepower and 920 lb. ft. of torque. That’s right – 920 lb. ft. The diesel is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The diesel pulls, and pulls, and pulls. There is a 6.2L V8 gas engine with 385-horsepower and 430 lb. ft. of torque. On chassis-cab models Ford’s 6.8L V10 is available.
Driving the Super Duty The Super Duty is a delight to drive for such a big truck. The 4×4 King Ranch F-250 Crew Cab (~$78,000) was easy to drive and easy to maneuver if you have a lot of space. The unloaded ride was good depending on road surface. Because of the stiff 4×4 suspension the ride over choppy roads was a bit uncomfortable. The power of the 6.7L Power Stroke diesel was very impressive.
Fiat Turns to Mazda for Iconic Sports Car About 50 years after first launching the Fiat 124 Spider in the United States, Fiat is launching a new Spider in Summer 2016. The last time the Fiat 124 Spider was sold in the USA was in 1983. To gain a desirable roadster without having to develop the car themselves, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) turned to Mazda.
Fiat wants the 124 Spider to re-establish the sporty image of the brand and communicate “fun, joyous and optimistic” motoring.
Basically, the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider is a reskinned Mazda Miata propelled by a Fiat MultiAir Turbo 4-cylinder engine.
Unique Exterior Styling Take the outstanding Mazda MX-5 Miata and breathe Italian-ness on it and you have the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider. With the rear wheel drive Mazda roadster platform as a base, Fiat has done an excellent job differentiating their little roadster from the Miata. The proportions are definitely Miata, but the Fiat body is 5.5-inches longer with much of the length increase going to the trunk. The exterior styling is different, maybe a bit more upscale looking. The front end has a hexagonal grille with a honeycomb mesh flanked by styled headlamps. It has a friendly face. The rear has sharp horizontal LED taillamps. Both the front and rear designs are reminiscent of the original 124 Spider.
Minor Interior Differentiation The interior is lifted directly from the Miata with material upgrades here and there. The seats are very comfortable and supportive with a unique sew style. Two seat trim colors are available, black and saddle. The saddle seat trim is very upscale looking and radio speakers in the headrests are a nice touch. The interior has been optimized for quietness. Being a roadster, wind buffeting can be a real problem, so care was taken in the windshield header and side window design to minimize buffeting at speed. The top is one of the best features of the Fiat 124 Spider. It can be opened or closed with one hand from either front seat. Brilliant!
Unique Turbo Engine from Italy The Fiat 124 Spider is powered by Fiat’s 1.4L MultiAir Turbo 4-cylinder engine with 160-horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. The engine block has been modified for longitudinal installation in the platform and to mate with Mazda’s excellent 6-speed manual transmission and 6-speed automatic transmission.
The suspension has been tuned a bit differently and the ride seems a bit more supple than on the Miata. Handling is crisp as befits the short wheelbase.
Pricing Essentially Equivalent with Miata There are three trim levels: Classica, Lusso and Abarth. There is also a 124 unit special edition car at launch – Prima Edizione Lusso (check all the boxes, unique blue color = $35,000). The base Classica model is priced at $24,995 with the 6-speed manual transmission. Destination charges are $995. About 60% of the Fiat 124 Spider buyers are expected to opt for the automatic transmission that adds $1,350 to the price. The volume model likely will be the $27,495 Lusso model that adds automatic headlamps, fog lamps, rain sensing wipers, automatic temperature control, leatherette and piano black instrument panel inserts, and 7-inch touch screen. Selecting the sportiest Abarth model is $28,195. When compared with the Miata, Lusso seems like a deal compared with the Miata Grand Touring ($31,270) except the Grand Touring Miata is fully loaded. To get that level of equipment on the Fiat 124 Spider adds another $3,795 to the price putting the Fiat only $20 higher than the Miata (Fiat destination charge is $160 higher than Mazda – puts actual price difference at $180 higher than Miata).
This article appeared in Forbes Auto: May 23, 2016
Photo Credit: George Peterson
Mazda has always been a brand different from most. It built its image on rotary engines that were fun to drive, but tough to make. Challenges from emissions and fuel economy regulations doomed the rotary early in the 21st century. Production ceased in 2012 with the demise of the Mazda RX-8 sports car. Mazda’s gorgeous Vision R coupe shown at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show demonstrates Mazda hasn’t given up on the rotary, but admits only a small group of dedicated engineers are presently working on it. But the rotary engine is just part of the Mazda story.
The Ford Days to Independence From 1979 through 2009, Ford Motor had an increasing equity stake in Mazda Motor. Starting with 7% stake in 1979, Ford increased its position in Mazda until it had effective control with 33.3% of the company. Mazda and Ford teamed up on several car platforms where Mazda’s design expertise opened the eyes of Ford engineers to new more efficient techniques.
As the Great Recession deepened and Ford was struggling for liquidity, Ford divested its shares in Mazda and the company became independent in 2009. The result was a stand-alone brand with good products, but low volumes. In 2011, Mazda raised $1.9 billion to guarantee its future viability and develop its SkyActiv platform now underpinning its cars and crossover SUVs. With the introduction of the Mazda CX-9 crossover SUV in mid-2016, the transition to SkyActiv is complete.
For Mazda’s 2016 Fiscal Year, the company sold a bit over 1.5 million vehicles world wide and had a net income of ¥134 billion (~$1 billion). Prospects are even better going forward as Mazda entered a technology sharing agreement with Toyota in May 2015.
Repositioning “Zoom Zoom” to “Driving Matters” Now the stage is set for Mazda to reposition itself. In the United States, Mazda wants to be perceived as an upscale mainstream brand similar to Acura. Acura has always seemed like an upscale domestic brand (and not particularly successful), so this positioning may make sense.
One of the first things Mazda has done to facilitate this change is change its advertising tag line from “Zoom Zoom” to “Driving Matters.” “Zoom Zoom” has been around seemingly forever, since about 2000. At first, Mazda’s products did not live up to the “Zoom Zoom” tag line, so now that they do, the tag line is changed to a more mature “Driving Matters”. “Zoom Zoom” is still there, but in a secondary position to “Driving Matters”.
“Driving Matters” fits with the attitude that people who buy a Mazda product are more enthusiastic about driving than buyers of most other mainstream brands. Mazda does not want to sell an appliance – transportation from point A to point B – they want to sell a vehicle with an active, sporty driving experience that their owners embrace.
Mazda Vehicles Deliver More of a Premium Ambiance Along with repositioning the message, Mazda’s products have been achieving higher transaction prices at their dealers. Much of this results from selling a richer mix of vehicles with about 50% of the CX-5 being the upper middle Grand Touring model and the CX-9 having a projected 40% being the Grand Touring model (then combined with the Touring model, Touring plus Grand Touring are expected to be 70% of the CX-9 mix). No longer wanting to be a “cheap and cheerful” brand, Mazda will not be the cheapest in any segment. It wants to be best. Simply, the brand is chasing a better quality of business.