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Mazda chief predicts soft 2014 new-car market

Keystone: The new-generation Mazda 3 launches in January, and Mazda hopes a larger proportion of its sales will be of higher-grade variants.

Market likely to flatten in 2014, says Mazda, but new-gen ‘3’ will buck trend

Mazda logo5 Dec 2013

By MIKE COSTELLO

MAZDA Australia managing director Martin Benders predicts the total Australian new-car market will continue to soften next year, but says the launch of its new-generation ‘3’ top-seller will allow it to buck the trend.

The Japanese company is on track to be Australia’s number one full-line importer again this year, though Korean rival Hyundai has closed the gap with 6.5 per cent growth year-on-year, compared with Mazda’s 0.3 per cent increase.

While the Australian new-vehicle market is still 2.2 per cent ahead of 2012’s sales record, growth has evaporated since July. The market has contracted over each of the past four sales months (compared to the equivalent month in 2012) by between 0.2 and 3.1 per cent.

Speaking at Mazda’s end-of-year wrap this week, Mr Benders said the slow-down was something of a surprise, with the projected bounce-back from the federal election and mooted government policy changes (such as the fringe benefits tax) never materialising.

“Now I’m thinking it’s to do with a general softness in confidence,” he said, adding that while he though the market would lift again, it might not be until the second half of 2014.

“My best guess is 2014 will be flat year over year. But from our perspective we think Mazda3 is going to be so strong we should be able to play against whatever softness there may be.” The new-generation 3 launches at the end of January, and – based on our first early model test drives – brings a new level of cabin quality and overall refinement.

Despite being in the final stages on run-out, the outgoing 3 is still performing well on the sales charts, with 3666 sales in November making it the second most popular model in Australia for both the month and the year, behind the new number one, Toyota’s rival Corolla.

The company has sufficient stock of the outgoing model to see it through until the end of January, while aggressive run-out pricing of $19,990 should help clear those cars.

Whether the new-generation car can re-take the crown from the Toyota remains to be seen, but Mr Benders said that in addition to retaining market-defying volume, Mazda would look to change the variant sales split with a goal of selling a greater proportion of higher-grade models than it does on the current car.

In this way, Mazda would return to the days of its first-generation 3 launched in 2004, where is rarely advertised the price and sold a sizable proportion of (more profitable) premium grades. About 70 per cent of sales in the current car, by comparison, are of the base Neo.

The move up-market would see top-end 3s taking on European cut-priced rivals such as the $35k Mercedes-Benz A-Class, plus top-spec versions of the Volkswagen Golf, but Mr Benders said the company was comfortable with the proposition because at higher price points the 3 would offer much more standard equipment and engine power.

Other keys to Mazda’s planned growth in 2014 will come from a continued push on its BT-50 LCV, which last month eclipsed its previous record annual sales tally of 11,848 units, plus continued strong performances from the CX-5 (this year Australia’s top-selling SUV, a segment that shows no signs of slowing down) and the mid-sized 6, the second most popular car in its segment after the locally made Toyota Camry.

One possible area of concern is the long-in-the-tooth baby Mazda2, which has seen sales drop 12.4 per cent this year (though it still leads the light-car segment) and is due for replacement globally next year.

But sales should sit steady at just above 1000 units a month in its last year on sale, said Mr Benders, particularly when the runout Mazda3 deals are finished and the downward pressure that places on higher-grade versions of the 2 is alleviated.

As reported, Mazda will release a number of all-new models by the end of 2014, including the new Mazda3, Mazda2, MX-5 (the platform of which will be licensed to Alfa Romeo) and CX-9.

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