Mazda has been hitting it out of the park lately with its models. Just about every vehicle in its lineup is excellent, and the Mazda CX-9 and CX-5 stand pretty far apart from the majority of the competition. The MX-5 Miata is another car that stands out because it’s just so darn good. Still, the automaker hovers around two percent market share.

Earlier this year, Masahiro Moro, CEO of Mazda North American Operations, told us the company is happy with its market share, but that it wants to reach a higher echelon of car shopper. He said the company wants to take its offerings to premium brand levels. The question is, can Mazda actually do it?

Mazda’s Products Are Getting There

CX-5

When you look at the Mazda CX-9 and CX-5 when compared to the competition, they’re clearly one of the nicest non-premium brand vehicles out there. However, compare them to products from Audi and Mercedes-Benz and the Mazda products lag just a little behind the competition. The interior materials are very close and the driving characteristics are as good if not better.

However, there’s still some parts of the car that need to be better before Mazda can punch with the big boys, like the head-up display in the CX-3 (pictured above). Some parts of Mazda’s vehicles feel a little on the cheaper side. Some of the plastics can feel a little chintzy and the doors on some models (like the new CX-5) are lightweight to the point of being a little difficult to close. This is partly due to the double seals on the doors, but a little more heft would make the vehicle feel more substantial.  

infotainment mazda

Also, the infotainment systems could be smoother, faster, and support features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Still, all these things are minor and could easily be addressed in future models. Mazda is close.

The Brand Has a Long Way to Go

Mazda6

While the company is closing in on the product side of things, from a branding standpoint it has a lot of work to do. Currently, Mazda doesn’t have the prestige attached to its name to be a bonafide player in the luxury car market. Its brand image has improved since it severed its connection with Ford, but the company still doesn’t have nearly the reputation it needs.

With that being said, Mazda seems to be on the right track. Its brand recognition continues to improve as time goes on and as its products improve. It’s a well-respected brand among critics and many of its models have won awards over the last several years.

Mazda Has the Right Approach

mazda6

Brand recognition and perception seems to be the main hurdle the company needs to overcome. Moro said Mazda will play the long game here. Instead of going for big advertising campaigns, the company wants to build strong relationships with its customers and hopefully, those customers will be so enamored with their cars that they’ll tell their friends to buy one too.

Mazda

The approach of excellent service and overall experience is something that will take a long time. However, it will likely be the best approach. Building this kind of relationship with customers can last a lifetime and the affinity for Mazda could even work its way down through multiple generations. Think of how many people buy Audis and Mercedes because their parents owned one or believed in the brand. Mazda’s approach will foster this same kind of loyalty.

Will It Stay the Course?

MX-5 RF

The biggest issue with this long term approach is that it takes years. If the company has a shift in management or vision, all of its hard work trying to build these relationships will be for naught. Moro told us the company’s pursuit of more market share is over, and it wants to pursue meaningful, long lasting relationships and stay at two percent market share, at least for now.

This all sounds great, but if Mazda gets in a bind for funds it could have to forgo this strategy to keep chugging along. It will be interesting to see how things shape up in the next few years for the automaker, but all things considered we think Mazda has a serious shot at playing with the premium brand big boys if it can stay on its planned course.