Mazda:

Mazda Premium Strategy to Surprise Competitors

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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.


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2017 Fiat 124 Spider – Japanese Roadster with Italian Flair

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2017 Fiat 124 Spider F34 450Fiat 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).


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New CX-9 Is Key In Mazda’s Attempt To Be Premium Brand

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This article appeared in Forbes Auto:  May 23, 2016

Photo Credit: George Peterson

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.


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Mazda – Zoom Zoom is Alive and Well

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07_deign_LSumming up a valuable trip to Japan with Mazda for the Tokyo Motor Show takes only a few words or phrases – fun to drive, Zoom Zoom, SkyActiv, Innovation, KODO, Monotsukuri, rotary

Fun to Drive a Key Strategy  Interviews with top Mazda executives at the Tokyo Motor Show reinforced their commitment to producing vehicles that are fun to drive from the get-go.  This is a key difference for the small Japanese automaker.  Mazda wants to “refresh the heart and soul with the joy of driving”.  Mazda North American Operations’ “Driving Matters” tag line is serious.

SkyActiv Yields Substantial Profit Improvement  Mazda has targeted its product development resources at its SkyActiv flexible production system that has yielded significant weight reductions, body rigidity improvements and engine performance improvements.  SkyActiv is the result of a complete re-thinking of how automotive product development should work and was funded by a $2 billion stock offering in 2012 combined with another $0.6 billion in subordinated loans.  Using common architecture, the same designs, parts and processes in its variety of vehicles, Mazda has substantially improved its per unit profitability.  New product development costs are a fraction of what they were previously.

SkyActiv engines – SkyActiv-G (Gasoline) – SkyActiv-D (Diesel) are recent developments that both have compression ratios of 14.0:1.  High for a gas engine and low for a diesel.  While the star of the Tokyo Motor Show was the RX-Vision featuring a SkyActiv-R (Rotary) engine, the rotary is only a dream at this point with a small team of 50 engineers working to solve fuel economy, emissions and reliability challenges.  Present engines are Stage 1 of Mazda’s powertrain development progress.  Meeting future emissions and fuel economy challenges will come in two further stages with Stage 3 complete sometime in the 2020-2025 time frame.

Mazda is committed to the internal combustion engine and by 2020 90% of its powertrains will still be internal combustion engines but will be modified with hybrid, plug-in hybrid and idle-stop technology to meet regional requirements.  There will be little reliance on EVs except where required by regulations.  When these advanced technologies are required, Mazda likely will draw on its comprehensive technology sharing agreement with Toyota.  Even when using Toyota technology, Mazda will maintain its uniqueness with in-house systems engineering.

KODO Design Brings Human Touch Where Computers Have Taken Over  Mazda’s KODO design language has now found its way onto all Mazda’s in production, Mazda is striving for uniqueness.  In fact, Mazda is proud that its solutions will be uncommon in an auto industry that has become commoditized.

Mazda’s Design Chief, Ikuo Maeda, says that the company begins its designs using traditional design methods like renderings by hand and hand-sculpted clay models.  He contends that mainstream carmakers using computer-aided designs yield styles that are too often reminiscent of each other.  At a distance, it is difficult to tell one mid-size car from another for instance.  Mazda’s KODO designs try for a unique play of shadow that changes with lighting and perspective.

Autonomous Driving and Mazda  Mazda’s CEO, Masamichi Kogai, does not dismiss driver assistance technologies or autonomous driving cars out of hand, but clearly is a strong believer in Mazda’s fun to drive attitude.  He says driving keeps a person young, alert and agile.  This attitude was a central part of the presentations by and conversations with every Mazda manager we came in contact with.  The consistency was refreshing.  Passion for cars and enthusiasm for driving is Mazda’s litany.  So, where does autonomous driving come into the picture for Mazda in the future?  Autonomous technology should take over if the driver has an issue that would impede the safe operation of the vehicle.  Autonomous technology would steer the vehicle safely to the side of the road where help could be summoned.

That said, Mazda is competitive in the driver assistance technology it offers today:  smart brake support, active LED headlamps, pre-collision throttle control both forward and in reverse, driver attention alert, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, radar cruise control, lane keeping assist and lane departure warning.


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Mazda’s Rotary Dreams – RX-Vision

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Heart of Mazda  The rotary engine is the “Heart of Mazda”, but unfortunately the company does not have a rotary engine in production now and may not in the future.  The last rotary engine was in the Mazda RX-8 which was dropped in 2012.  The rotary in that car could not meet the tougher emissions standards being adopted around the world, so the car and engine are history for the time being.  Today, a group of 50 Mazda engineers continue to try to break the code of rotary engine emissions, fuel economy and reliability – all very tough challenges.  With such a small group, likely with a limited budget, it seems like the hope for a rotary engine anytime in the future is dim.

Mazda executives mean it when they say the rotary is the “Heart of Mazda”.  Back in the late ’50s and early ’60s, the Japanese government was thinking of consolidating its automotive industry and Mazda was in the cross hairs.  Mazda likely would have been folded into Toyota or Nissan.  To demonstrate that Mazda deserved to remain independent the company bought the license for the rotary engine from NSU in West Germany in 1960.  Dozens of other companies licensed the technology as well, but Mazda was the only company to successfully bring the engine into production.11_RX-VISION_L15_RX-VISION_L

RX-Vision  That did not, however, prevent Mazda from displaying the RX-Vision concept car at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show.  Widely considered to be the star of the show, the dramatically styled coupe  uses a rotary engine to achieve a very low hood height.  Using the latest evolution of Mazda’s KODO design language, the RX-Vision has an extremely long hood with the cabin positioned way to the rear. The proportions and scale are surprising from a company like Mazda.  In fact, the size and proportions hearken back to the days of the Japanese supercar race with the Toyota Supra, Nissan 350ZX, Mitsubishi 3000GT and the last Mazda RX-7.  That was an era when each Japanese company was trying to out-do the other with higher and higher spec sports cars.

The RX-Vision is a sculpture in “soul red” a paint developed to accentuate the flowing lines of the car.  Made to take advantage of shadow depth the color is vivid and head-turning.  The color also makes the car almost impossible to photograph and even the professional shots used here don’t do the RX-Vision justice.  It is a strikingly beautiful concept that likely will never see the light of day – at least in its present form.


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Two Three-Row Crossovers Take Different Paths

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The model year was 2007.  ‘Crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley was popular on the radio.  Steve Irwin, the famous crocodile hunter was killed by a stingray and minivans were about as cool as Barney.  Two new three-row crossover SUVs entered the market looking to haul families and mass quantities of Vitamin Water from Costco in style and safety.

Posted in: GMC, Mazda

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2012 Mazda5 Sport: A Mini-Minivan for People Who Like to Drive

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Here I am, snaking through the famed Ortega Highway in Southern California in a Mazda, attacking every apex and rowing through the crisp six-speed manual’s gears with an ear-to-ear grin.  Only I’m not driving a Miata or RX-8.  I’m driving a friggin’ minivan.

Now in its second generation, the Mazda5 continues to occupy a unique niche in the marketplace (and will likely continue to do so for the time being now that Ford has canceled plans to bring the conceptually similar European C-Max seven-seater to the U.S.).  Launched earlier this year as a 2012 model, the new Mazda5 doesn’t stray much from the template established by its predecessor, but for the right kind of family, that’s fine and dandy.


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2009 Mazda CX-9 Wins AutoPacific's Vehicle Satisfaction Award for Large Crossover SUV

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2009_Mazda CX-9.jpgMazda has a real winner on its hands with the CX-9 – a Large Crossover SUV that actually says Zoom-Zoom! The CX-9 is the outright winner in 26 of 48 satisfaction attributes, and is well rated in the rest. Winning attributes of the CX-9 include such important characteristics as:
• Exterior styling and size
• Fun-to-drive, power/acceleration and handling (the essence of Zoom-Zoom)
• Seating capacity and flexible/changeable seating
• Quality, reliability/dependable, durable/long lasting
• Safety features and a feeling of safety while driving
• Operating costs, anticipated resale value and value for money


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2008 LA Auto Show: 2010 Mazda3 – Next Time, Start a Revolution!

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Once fuel had reach $4.05 a gallon nationally, we watched as truck sales plummeted and small/compact car sales got a little boost. People in the industry began to say that compact cars were going to appeal to more Americans and make up a larger percentage of vehicles sold here in the United States. The trick is said to be selling these small/compact cars for a profit. Up until recently the major domestic automakers had been able to make up to $12,600 profit on Large Luxury SUVs, but selling a small/compact car only raked in about $2,400 bucks. Once you subtract anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 for fixed costs you could actually end up with a negative number. Which means that a solid business case to produce small/compact cars here in the U.S. is not always an easy case to make; other than to help offset CAFE. Although, Mazda seems to be able to make a business case for them, and they sell tons of them!

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Of course now there is talk of ‘premium small cars’ becoming popular with Generation Y and possibly becoming a more lucrative business venture. With fuel prices dropping again to around $2 a gallon only time will tell what the future of the small/compact car will be here in the United States. Still, injecting premium content into a small car may go a long way in appealing to an increasing number of people who don’t think small size should equal skimpy content.


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AutoPacific Announces 2008 Ideal Vehicle Awards

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IVA main.jpg

Tustin, California, June 30, 2008 – An “ideal” is defined as an excellent or perfect example. In the annual Ideal Vehicle Awards (IVA), announced today by automotive research and consulting firm AutoPacific, owners rate their new 2008 model year cars and trucks by how close they come to their ideal, as measured by 15 key vehicle attributes. The cars or trucks that owners would change the least are the most ideal.


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