News - Mazda

Mazda eyes Toyota, not Ford

Seating for seven: Mazda's CX-9 measures more than five metres long.

Mazda says its first seven-seat SUV is a direct rival for Kluger, not Ford's Territory

Mazda logo11 Dec 2007

MAZDA’S rampant rise up the antipodean sales chart has made the company’s Australian subsidiary a study in best practices for Mazda Motors Corporation, but the once-struggling brand’s global sales and marketing chief won’t be drawn on if or when Ford’s born-again Hiroshima hero will outsell its parent company here.

Speaking as a guest at last week’s launch of the CX-9, for which Mazda Australia has nominated Toyota’s Kluger - not Ford’s top-selling Territory - as its most direct rival, the ex-Ford man who doubled sales in Europe has nominated its southern subsidiary’s unwavering brand identity, strong dealer and customer relations and consistent management team as examples for other Mazda outposts to follow.

Australia, where 77,000 Mazdas will be sold this year and 80,000 sales are forecast in 2008, is the world’s fifth-largest market and accounts for almost six per cent of global Mazda sales, which last year amounted to 1.3 million vehicles and this year is expected to reach a record 1.36 million.

Australia was just one of 14 nations to set market records for Mazda this year, but the company has even bigger plans. MMC wants 1.6 million sales in 2010, which at current levels extrapolates to more than 90,000 sales Down Under by decade’s end.

Now firmly entrenched here as the number two Japanese brand, Mazda has almost tripled its sales since 2000 to become Australia’s fourth best selling brand overall.

Of course, much of Mazda’s inexorable growth in popularity has come at the expense of Nissan, but the company’s sales growth has also outstripped the market’s record upward sales spiral.

Mazda Oz all but eclipsed its best-ever annual sales figure (66,520, set in 2005) with two months remaining this year, following 10 consecutive record sales months culminating in a new all-time monthly sales record in October (of 7271).

Mazda says that, in the segments in which they compete, it sells more vehicles to private buyers than market-leader Toyota, and that overall the Mazda3 is now Australia’s top-selling “private” car. To November 2007, Mazda had sold 71,292 vehicles, including 53,010 passenger cars.

In contrast, Ford had sold a total of 99,094 vehicles year-to-date (27,802 more than Mazda), including just 53,932 passenger cars – putting it just 922 ahead of Mazda. With a total market share of 7.4 per cent, Mazda now lies only three market share points of third-placed Ford (10.3 per cent).

“I’ve got to be real careful not to focus on the Ford side of the business in all honesty,” said MMC’s director and senior managing executive officer in charge of marketing sales and customer service, Daniel Morris.

“We sell into the marketplace to gain share and to meet objectives, which this year will be 77,000 units. The team had about an 18 per cent increase year-on-year, which is phenomenal. Next year we’ll sell 80,000.

“So I wish Ford to sell as many as they can. If we get 80,000 and Ford sells as many as they can then... So from that standpoint, my objective for the team is to hit the numbers we have planned for them.

“Whatever Ford can do, God bless them, then let them carry on in the marketplace.”

Mr Morris said he hoped the CX-9, Mazda’s first seven-seat SUV, would resonate with Australian consumers.

“The CX-9 takes us in a new direction, because it opens up a market segment that we haven’t participated in before... As a seven-seat SUV, we’re hopeful it will put Mazda on the shopping lists of those growing families,” he said.

Mazda Australia’s national PR manager Glenn Butler said the decision to nominate the Kluger as the CX-9’s most direct opponent in its quest to find 400 new homes per month was made by consumers, not Mazda.

“We did some Australian market research earlier in the planning process for CX-9 and Kluger was the most commonly named competitor,” he said, adding that the CX-9’s $49,990 entry-level price was not a big step up from the Kluger’s $39,990 base price.

“It’s not when you remember the entry Kluger is only two-wheel drive. Entry Kluger doesn’t have a lot of the equipment that our (base) Classic does, like dual-zone climate-control, 18-inch alloy wheels and roll stability control. With Territory, less than $40,000 only gets you five seats and a four-speed auto.

“We chose to make safety, mechanical and space standard on our cars. Everything we’ve heard says those $39,990 (medium SUV) models serve as much to bring customers in to the showrooms as they do to actually sell,” he said.

Mazda expects initial CX-9 demand to be skewed toward the flagship Luxury version by up to 80 per cent, settling to about 65 per cent over the model’s life cycle.

Mr Morris said Mazda Australia continued to be an example from with its other market affiliates could learn.

“Mazda Australia is a stand-out performer. You know, they’re fourth in the marketplace. And as I understand it, if you strip out the fleet sales, the Mazda3 is the number one selling car here and there are not many markets around the world you can say that for.

“Australia is one of Mazda’s most important markets. In the fall the president of the company was here as we launched the Mazda2. I’m here during the launch of the CX-9 and as we approach the next launch there will be another visitor from MMC.

“This is our fifth-largest market – it’s very important, and it’s not only about the product here, we learn things that we can share on a global basis, in terms of best practices.

“We actually had visitors from Japan down here about a year ago to look at the CRM (customer relationship management) for our Japanese market affiliate.

“(But) we’ve got to continue to build vehicles that Australians want. All of our great marketing and all of our great efforts will fall on deaf ears if the customers don’t like the product. You can’t have a brand promise that doesn’t deliver on that promise, so I think the timing was right, but it resonated so well with the consumer.”

Mr Morris said that unlike some car-makers, Mazda did not attempt to cover all market segments and could therefore present a more targeted marketing message.

He also praised the abilities of Mazda’s Australian management team, including two ex-members who now work in Hiroshima: former managing director Malcolm Gough and former marketing manager Martin Benders.

“On a global basis it will be a record sales year for Mazda. We’ll sell 1.36 million and that’s up four per cent and we’ll have 14 countries round the world that will sell records.

“These are not small countries – Canada, Russia, the UK, Spain, Australia – not just emerging countries, which will also have record sales.

“One of the countries I have to brag about... sorry it’s not Australia this time… is Israel, where we are the market leader and it’s for the 12 consecutive year.

“Now I’ve got to bring it back to Mazda Australia, because what Mazda Australia does for us is provide us with, let’s say, a best practice scenario.

“And when we look at what are the key ingredients for success here and what are the key ingredients for success in Israel, it’s a clear vision of where the brand is and what the brand is. We’re not trying to be all things to all people. We want to be very focussed on what a Mazda customer is.

“It’s a management team that has a very strong working relationship with its dealers and I think it’s unparalleled the strength that these guys have with their dealers, in working with them on a day to day basis and in solving problems together.

“So that’s a big key and it has a consistent team, led in my time first by Mr Gough and now by Mr Dickson. They’ve also built one of the best customer relationship management systems. They really not only engage a relationship with the dealer, they engage a relationship with the Mazda customer that’s created some zealots for the brand.

“The other thing is they absolutely define the brand. The Zoom-Zoom brand is very well defined here and then it comes down to the products for the customers. At the same time I think we’ve delivered Zoom-Zoom dynamic products that Australians can enjoy and find meet their lifestyle needs.”

Mr Morris said that Mazda would not relinquish its new-found sales success lightly.

“We’re not taking our foot off the accelerator – quite the opposite. We have aggressive plans and we’re confident we can do that and the reason we’re confident is that we’re having success around the globe.

“We’re not going to squander our success. We’ve worked very hard to get to where we are. The mid-1990s were a difficult time for Mazda and we’re having great success now in Australia, so we hope that continues,” he said.

Australian managing director Doug Dickson said Mazda had ambitious growth targets that will be met partly by additional models including the CX-9.

“But we’re not going to chase volume at any cost. What really is important to us is our relationship with our customers.

“We’ve worked long and hard with our private customers particularly to build a reputation for dynamism, performance, practicality and value, and we’re not going to throw that away,” he said.

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