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Steady as she goes for Mazda Australia

Small wonder: Mazda Australia managing director Martin Benders expects the Mazda3 will enjoy continued healthy sales this year.

Incremental sales growth expected in coming years, but Mazda won't be number one

Mazda logo5 Aug 2014

MAZDA is resigned to the fact that it will lose its status as the leading full-import brand in Australia once Toyota and Holden close their factories here in 2017, but is intent on consistently improving its annual sales volume – currently at around 100,000 units – with all-new models and a greater emphasis on business sales.

Speaking with local media this week, Mazda Australia managing director Martin Benders admitted the Japanese brand would never be market leader given it does not compete in as many segments as Toyota and others, and point blank refuses to chase large fleet sales or offer rock-bottom, volume-geared cars at the entry level.

However, fully redesigned models such as the forthcoming Mazda2 and the all-new ‘CX-3’ crossover due next year will be crucial in helping the company achieve solid incremental sales growth.

New-vehicle sales figures published today by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries show that the Japanese car-maker recorded another strong result in July with 8048 new registrations for the month, boosting its year-to-date sales to 59,958.

This overall result represents a 1.4 per cent decline over the same period last year, but keeps the brand in third position behind Toyota on 117,591 (-4.8 per cent YTD) and a resurgent Holden on 65,763 (+6.6 per cent).

Bullish South Korean car-maker Hyundai is, however, closing in on Mazda, outselling it last month to now be just shy of 58,000 sales YTD – up 3.5 per cent on last year.

Mr Benders said he expected Mazda to finish the year with similar sales numbers to last year’s haul of 103,144 units, adding that a shortage of run-out Mazda2 stock ahead of the arrival of the new-generation model in November could have an impact.

“I think we will finish a little bit up but not a lot – it will basically be flat,” he said. “We have got new Mazda2 arriving in the second half (and) we are a bit hamstrung on supply of the old one. Basically, what we are doing is all we can do. Most of the stock is accounted for, so there won’t be any upside there.” In terms of overall market share, Mr Benders said Mazda expects to remain at its current level of 9.2 per cent for the full year, while beyond 2014 he predicted that sales will remain at a sustainable level.

“We can sustain a level above 100,000 for the foreseeable future. It is very much a matter of degrees. Do we want to grow further? We probably think we can a little bit,” he said.

“We have no intention of going backwards, and we need to strengthen our performance of where we are. It is not a ‘volume at all costs’ sort of thing.” While Mr Benders predicted ongoing sales success for its two top-selling models – the Mazda3 small car and the CX-5 compact SUV – he conceded that other models in the range that have slowed in recent months will require more of a push.

“Mazda3 will do what it does, as will CX-5. Both those two models are up 10 per cent year-over-year, and they have both had record first halves,” he said.

“The two segments we are behind the eight ball is Mazda6 (mid-size passenger car) and BT-50 (utility). With BT-50 we have been doing quite well in the private part of that segment. We haven’t been doing anything active in the fleet side and getting dealers focused on that side of things.

“That’s something we have to do, a big part of that BT-50 is fleet business so we are going to put some things in place in the coming months.”

Sales of the 4x2 BT-50 are down 3.4 per cent so far this year with 2751 shifted, while the 4x4 version has dropped 8.8 per cent to 4965 units.

These numbers place the BT-50 well behind a number of competitors in the light-commercial segment, including the top-selling Toyota HiLux, a fast-improving Ford Ranger and the ageing Mitsubishi Triton and Nissan Navara.

Despite the BT achieving a maximum ANCAP safety of five stars which is mandatory for many large fleet buyers, Mr Benders said Mazda would not chase fleet sales from the mining sector and will instead focus its energies on attracting small business owners.

“Our dealers have had a really good run with (BT-50) private sales, and they have done that user-chooser business. With the grey nomads, every second one is a BT-50, so they just need to get out there and do the hard yards on small fleets,” he said.

“There are a lot of small businesses in their PMAs (primary market areas) they just need to start working that.”

Mr Benders said he was not concerned with Hyundai’s position on the sales charts, and reiterating that Mazda will not actively pursue large fleet business, including rentals, to increase volume.

“Our primary focus is and remains private buyers. There are a couple of segments where the private buyer component is fairly small so if we want to be competitive we need to do something else. The bulk of our volume comes from small and medium SUVs and small and medium and light sedans, so that is still out private buyer core,” he said.

“What we see Hyundai doing is chasing all of the business that the others are leaving behind. The rental business, the government business, that sort of stuff. Are we going to chase them for that? No. If that’s how they are going to go past us, they will go past us.

“We are not in it for a volume game. We think we have a viable product line and viable strategy. I don’t think they are going to catch us this year. I think they are more concerned about passing us than we are about them.”

In April, newly appointed GM Holden chairman Gerry Dorizas said he believed the market would shift after the three local car-makers – Ford, Holden and Toyota – closed their manufacturing operations by the end of 2017.

He predicted that Holden was planning to win back market leadership from Toyota with a 15 per cent share by the end of the decade, taking advantage of the increasingly competitive marketplace that has already seen Toyota’s sales and market share contract slightly this year.

Mr Benders said a 15 per cent share for the market leader by the end of this decade was a possibility, comparing Australia’s market to Spain’s heavily segmented landscape.

“If you look at the numbers and the trends, that’s what’s happening. Toyota has come back a fair bit. As new competitors have come in it’s getting spread a bit more thinly,” he said.

“Looking at Germany, half the market is the three premiums (Audi, BMW and Mercedes) and Volkswagen. They look after their industry. If you go to France it’s the same thing.

“If you go to Spain, even though a lot of those companies have got plants down there, the top 10 are all seven or eight per cent. You could throw a blanket over the top 10 almost, it’s very evenly spread. I think without any assembly it’s probably going to happen here as well.”

Having said that, Mr Benders conceded Mazda would never become the market leader in Australia as its model line-up did not cover all major segments.

“There are a lot of segments we don’t play in, at least 15 or 20 per cent of the market or closer to 25 or 30 per cent. If we got into the small SUV segment, that would reduce it a bit,” he said.

“We don’t have big trucks, we don’t have vans, don’t have light trucks, we don’t have a micro-car, we don’t have large cars. So there is a bit of stuff we don’t do so that makes it a bit hard.

“We don’t have any intention to be the cheapest so that already takes you out a little bit of the volume parts of the segments. So no, I don’t think so. We are quite happy with the mix we sell, and the people we appeal to.” Mazda’s model line-up is set to grow in the coming years with the arrival of a Mazda2-based ‘CX-3’ sub-compact SUV that will face rivals such as the Holden Trax, Ford EcoSport, Nissan Juke and forthcoming Honda HR-V.

Mr Benders also hinted at more models and variants that will bolster Mazda’s range.

“We have a few variants in the pipeline over the next two or three years that will fill a few holes. We will be filling gaps in the range that will allow us to cover a bit more,” he said.

“We do want to get into that small (light-sized) SUV segment. So that’s an incremental opportunity for us at some point.”

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