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Mazda to pounce on Toyota plant closure

Six shooter: Mazda sees the end of local Toyota Camry manufacturing as an opportunity for its Mazda6 (pictured), with large ‘Buy Australian’ fleet policies coming to an end.

Hire cars, user-choosers set to help Mazda6 as Toyota shifts popular Camry offshore

Mazda logo24 Jan 2017

MAZDA Australia will attempt to capitalise on Toyota’s decision to shift production of its Camry mid-size sedan from Australia to Japan from later this year, with managing director Martin Benders forecasting that changed fleet policies and higher prices of its next imported rival will affect the popularity of the segment’s runaway sales leader.

Mr Benders anticipated that some businesses will move to a ‘user chooser’ model or will simply need to look elsewhere in the market should his predictions ring true that deals on the newly imported new-generation Camry will be less aggressive than with the current locally made model.

Speaking with GoAuto at the media launch of the MX-5 Retractable Fastback in central New South Wales last week, Mr Benders said the demise of Toyota’s local manufacturing operations could open opportunities for the Mazda6, even in the hire-car market – although he ruled out taxis for image-association reasons.

“It’s probably an opportunity,” Mr Benders said of the Toyota closure that will occur between October and December this year, with an exact date yet to be announced.

“You would hope … where if there was no big price advantage on a Camry that they will look at what else is available, and they may drift to other models.

“Where we see (a shift) most happening is changes to the fleet buying dynamics, or the corporate buying dynamics – they won’t be able to go to Toyota and say ‘make me another 1000 hybrids for my taxi fleet, make me another 1000 Camry sedans for the government fleet’ or anything like that.

“They won’t be doing it, so they will need to look at what’s in the marketplace and they might need to look a little bit broader.”

Mr Benders also said several businesses were set to drop buying policies that stipulate purchasing locally made vehicles, although this did not mean Mazda would look to engage in larger fleet contracts.

“We already know that some companies are dropping the ‘you have to buy Australian made’ thing from their business, so if they’re specifying sedans or SUVs they might now be adding in some of the more popular import models to the mix,” he said.

“That change is already happening and we’re seeing some of that as well.”

Mr Benders added that a shift from companies buying large masses of one single vehicle towards giving individual workers the ability to choose their own vehicle was right up Mazda Australia’s alley.

“We have a corporate program that is aimed at middle management with car allowances and that sort of thing, because those are the people we’re interested in,” he said.

“What we’re interested in is people who have an influence or a choice in what they buy. From our perspective whether the company buys or they fund it themselves, if they’ve got a choice then they’re the people we’re after because we can talk about the car and what it does for them and all the rest of it.”

Where the Mazda6 sedan starts from $32,490 plus on-road costs and the entire range finished 2016 with 4369 sales in the mid-size passenger car segment (down 17.2 per cent on 2015), the Toyota Camry kicks off at $26,490 and managed 26,485 units over the same period (down 4.2 per cent).

Mr Benders ruled out dropping the entry price to the Mazda6 range, but conversely said the company has aimed to add equipment to the upper end of the medium sedan and wagon line-up in order to poach more user-choosers.

In September last year, Mazda enhanced its $45,490 Mazda6 Atenza flagship with heated rear seats, Nappa leather trim and new chrome flourishes.

“We’ve added a lot more spec to that, and that’s the sort of car the user-choosers, middle managers, small business owners buy, they want the bells and whistles so we put that into the range to start attracting those sort of people,” Mr Benders said.

However, he did not rule out a foray into the private passenger vehicle market currently dominated by the Camry Hybrid – particularly since the demise of the LPG-engined Ford Falcon stalwart.

While Mr Benders ruled out a Mazda6 diesel entering taxi ranks, he said hire cars would be something the brand would chase.

“In Germany and Austria they sell Mazda6 taxis but that’s not something we’re actively chasing,” he said.

“A taxi is a utilitarian thing, it’s like rental cars. Interestingly, though, there is a whole hire-car market that no longer can get long wheelbase Commodores and Falcons, so they are toying with where they go, so that could be an interesting avenue as to what they start buying.

“The 6 sedan is one possibility, the CX-9 could be a good candidate for those sort of things because the ride quality is good, it takes five passengers comfortably, it has heaps of luggage space.

“Certainly, those people want a nice car because the people they’re ferrying want to be comfortable and everything else, so for us it’s the sort of area we could be interested in.”

Asked whether Mazda was interested in hire cars because it represented a more premium image that the company would like associate with its brand, the local managing director simply replied: “Yes.”

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