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Smaller-engined Mazda MX-5 a sales uncertainty

Max value: Mazda will be watching the sales of the 1.5-litre version of the MX-5 that lands in showrooms this month.

Mazda hopes fans will see the value and purity in downsized 1.5L Roadster versions

Mazda logo10 Aug 2015

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

MAZDA Australia says it has concerns about the 1.5-litre version of the all-new MX-5 convertible will fare in the sales charts, given it is the smallest-capacity engine ever offered in the series’ 26-year run.

Speaking with GoAuto at the launch of the ND MX-5 in Queensland last week, Mazda Australia managing director Martin Benders said the roadster has been priced deliberately low in the hope of emulating the MX-5’s long-term success in the United Kingdom – which remains one of the biggest markets for the drop-top in the world.

“We’ve released it with the 1.5-litre engine, but we don’t know what the reaction to it will be,” he said. “Going from a 2.0-litre to a 1.5-litre is a risk, and we don’t know whether the drop in capacity will impact sales.

“We should be able – with two engines and all the variants that we’ve got in the new MX-5 – to exceed the sales of the earlier MX-5’s 1500 or so sales in one year, but how far above that we go really depends on how much incrementality we get from the new 1.5. It’s a great price – but will people buy the smaller-engined version.”

In its first year at least, Mazda is counting on selling 125 MX-5s per month, with the 2.0L engine models outstripping the 1.5L by a ratio of 48/52.

Furthermore, the transmission split should be at 60/40 in the manual’s favour, and the better-equipped GT will most probably outsell the Roadster two-to-one.

The goal in 2016 is to break the MX-5’s long-standing sales records, which were 1468 units in the previous-generation NC series’ first full year on sale in 2006, just ahead of the original NA’s 1990 tally of 1446 orders.

Mr Benders believes the new model’s $15,000 lower starting price over its predecessor should help the MX-5 maintain momentum after the initial expected sales spike subsides, as it has done historically in the United Kingdom, where it has consistently performed better than in Australia due to the availability of a cheaper entry level variant.

He also added that Mazda Australia now has the clout to negotiate sharp pricing with the Hiroshima headquarters as a result of its increasing sales and market share over the past few years.

The strong customer reception enjoyed by the Toyota 86 – which caused a sensation when launched in June 2012 from $29,990 plus on-road costs – has also helped convince Japan.

“I tell you, it was a fairly serious discussion with Mazda in Japan,” Mr Benders revealed. “Since the (previous-generation) NC first appeared 10 years ago, we’ve been much more successful in Australia, which has given us credibility with Mazda Motor Corporation. And the 86’s pricing has helped too, because they’ve seen that there is volume down that end of the market.

“So it’s been a combination of things that has allowed us to price the 1.5L from $31,990, and the currency today is probably even better than it was back then (which helps), so if you look at all the factors together, we were able to convince the factory to let us roll it back.

“If you look at the UK, over the 25 years, in a market that is 50 per cent bigger than Australia, they’ve sold 10 times as many MX-5s as we have. And they never took the price up as far as we did. And that becomes a price/volume thing ... so we were able to take it back to where it originally was.”

Mr Benders rejects the notion that competition from hot hatches such as the Ford Fiesta ST and Volkswagen Golf GTI, as well as more traditional coupes such as the 86 and Hyundai Veloster, means life is tougher for the MX-5 today than it was 25 years ago, especially since the series has gone back to its core basics.

“When the first MX-5 came out there was still a whole lot of stuff like the Toyota Celica and Honda Integra – and we even had the MX-6 coupe out at the time,” he said.

“So I think these things ebb and flow, and we’ve been very consistent in there with MX-5, even if the car started to follow its own track up (in price, size and weight).

“But the 2005 NC was a platform shared with the RX-8, so it had its own compromise in it – the first time we actually compromised the platform, because the MX-5’s always had a dedicated platform. So we’ve gone back to the pure form…. and I hope buyers can see that.

“We’re seeing urban, childless couples who are professionals, living close to the city, maybe in an apartment… they probably don’t even use their car during the week… they only need a weekend car, and this is the perfect weekend car..

so it’s probably the right car for its time… again.”

Released in October 1989, the original MX-5 wore a sticker price of $29,550, which is nearly $59,000 in today’s money.

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