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Mazda Australia cries out for new SUVs

Approaching use-by: Mazda Tribute will be renewed within two years, and could be joined here by other Mazda crossovers.

Tribute replacement among three crossovers and 16 new models to come from Mazda

1 Dec 2004

MAZDA’S plan to expand its SUV and cross-over presence in the next few years has the Australian branch office both excited and anxious.

While the advent of such vehicles is obviously good news for Mazda Australia, there is a concern that with the US market seen as their primary aim, it is uncertain which will be sold in right-hand drive and when.

Mazda has stated "three SUV/crossover-type models" are coming as part of the Mazda Momentum plan.

Expected to be among them are the Tribute replacement and a more car-like crossover. Both will be among the 16 vehicles launched by Mazda globally by March 2007.

The US market is seen as one of the few bleak spots in Mazda’s strong global sales story, actually down three per cent at 140,000 in the first six months of the current financial year.

Mazda is working on increasing its number of stand-alone dealers in the US from 30 to 50 per cent, as well as diversifying into more SUV and crossover segments, because it has only about 50 per cent of the market covered.

But the Australians argue that the position here is little better.

"If Mazda Australia is going to move ahead we actually have to improve our coverage of the markets and right now we have about 55 per cent," said Mazda Australia managing director Doug Dickson.

"The SUV-sport utility market is growing and our predictions are it is going to be the biggest segment in the market in the next couple of years ... and right now Mazda Australia has one entrant in that segment.

"If you look at the coverage of our competitors most have two, some have three or even more than that. So from our point of view the opportunity is crying out loud for us to have something to bolster our entry into that segment." Mazda’s global executives were reticent to discuss definitive SUV/cross-over product plans or Australia’s opportunities, but were generally supportive.

"Australia is one of our most successful markets when you look at the share of the market, and we recognise that," said global R&D chief Joe Bakaj.

"We are not going to turn our backs on a market where we are going well." Despite lacking strong SUV coverage, Mazda Australia still expects to post record sales of around 56,000 in 2004.

* A more upmarket and luxurious limited edition version of the rotary-powered RX-8 sports car will be launched in Australia next January. Just 100 cars are expected to be offered.

Meanwhile, a solution to the car’s powersapping four-speed auto is being worked on. Look for a six-speed automatic in the future, but probably more than two years away.

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