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Mazda  Turbo boost: The Mazda6 is not a big seller in the United States but it could get a lift from a turbo-petrol or diesel engine down the track.

Turbo boost: The Mazda6 is not a big seller in the United States but it could get a lift from a turbo-petrol or diesel engine down the track.

MPS unlikely but Mazda6 could get a boost from turbo-petrol power

MAZDA will not pursue high-performance MPS variants for now but a wider rollout of its new turbocharged petrol engine is a possibility, according to its new United States chief.

The Japanese car-maker announced late last year that its second-generation CX-9 seven-seat SUV, due in Australia mid-year, would have its its first turbo-petrol engine since the demise of the Mazda3 MPS in 2007.

While it employed forced induction technology for its suite of SkyActiv diesel engines, Mazda has resisted turbocharging its petrol units until now, but according to Mazda North American Operations president and CEO and Mazda Motor Corporation managing executive officer Masahiro Moro, that does not mean a return of the performance-focused MPS badge.

“At this moment, no,” he told Australian journalists at the New York motor show last week. “We have a very good line-up, finally completed, the new CX-9 is about to arrive.

“We have really got to focus on those six models to improve retention business in the next three years, which is my first priority rather than to go off to different territory. So MPS is not on my agenda right now in the US.”

Mr Moro did not rule out the possibility of slotting the 169-186kW 2.5-litre SkyActivG under the bonnet of the Mazda6 mid-sizer to grow that model's appeal, particularly in the United States.

“I think it is technically possible,” he said. “If you see the marketability, it could be one possibility in the future.”

The Mazda6 sits at the back of the sales pack in the US mid-size segment, with 57,897 finding homes last year, placing it in similar territory to the Subaru Legacy (sold in Australia as the Liberty) with 60,447 and the Volkswagen Passat on 78,207.

These models are well off the pace of the segment-dominating Toyota Camry (429,355 sales in 2015), Honda Accord (355,557), Nissan Altima (333,398) and Ford Fusion (300,170).

While the result for the Mazda6 was an 8.8 per cent improvement over its 2014 tally, Mr Moro acknowledged that Mazda6 struggled in the US, but added that he was committed to seeing it grow, despite stiff competition in the segment.

“We have not been good at selling Mazda6 in the USA and we are only selling 50-55,000 units per annum, compared to segments like the C-D class and C class,” he said. “In most cases C-D class is bigger, but in case of Mazda, the Mazda3 is much bigger and Mazda6 is smaller (than rivals).

“So my focus is how we can steadily increase and penetrate Mazda6 in this market. And that is one of the important agendas for me. I am going to continuously invest and sustain Mazda6's presence in the market so that we gradually increase the penetration.”

Mr Moro said there was a chance Mazda could introduce a diesel version of the Mazda6 that would give the company “a very unique value proposition in the US market” against its mostly petrol-powered rivals.

He denied that the next Mazda6 would need to be larger than the existing model to better compete in the tough segment, and said it was an under-appreciated model.

“Not necessarily a bigger car. I believe the current Mazda6 is, in terms of the size and the volume, is in a sweet spot. So we don’t need to make it bigger, but I would like future Mazda6 to have a very good stance, because all premium (sedans) have a very good stance.

“But I think overall, the current Mazda6 is still the best-kept secret model. That’s my problem.”

Mr Moro said Mazda customers cross-shop with German premium brands and while he believes Mazda product is comparable to its pricier European competitors, the car-maker needs to work on how it can better “treat customers at dealerships”.

“In the past, dealers had to deal with many, many price-oriented customers because the business model was like that,” he said “Now we are changing course, a lot of new customers are coming in. So we need to make a big transformation in how we do business in dealerships in USA.”

Mazda Australia marketing director Alastair Doak said the company was committed to the Mazda6 Down Under, despite declining sales in the segment as buyers shifted into SUVs.

“It is still an important car for us,” he told GoAuto on the Mazda stand at the New York motor show. “It appeals to an older male audience – 45-plus. It is still doing significant numbers.

“If we have a product on sale, we have to invest and market it and back it up. It's an important car, our flagship sedan. We are pretty happy with where it is at. It is the top-selling import in the segment. The local car (Toyota Camry) will disappear – will that give others an advantage? I don’t know.”

Mr Doak said the transition from the Australian-built Camry to the imported version is likely to prompt changes to fleet business, and he added that Mazda was well-placed to take advantage of this.

“Something will have to happen because obviously there is a lot of fleet component in there,” he said. “The traditional large fleet business model is probably going to disappear entirely and it becomes more user-chooser type thing and then at that point, brand appeal then steps up to the fore and I think we have been working hard on our brand and continuing to invest in that and tell the Mazda story.

“We have been very consistent for a very long time now. Others are starting to talk about 'we need to invest in our brand and get the brand message out'. We have been doing that for a while so hopefully that will keep us in good stead.”

Mazda  Turbo boost: The Mazda6 is not a big seller in the United States but it could get a lift from a turbo-petrol or diesel engine down the track.

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