Mazda has some of the best cars right now, and instead of trying to go big and sell cars to as many people as possible, the company has decided to focus on quality products and quality service.
At a recent gathering in Chicago, Masahiro Moro, CEO, Mazda North American Operations gave a talk about the company’s history and humble beginnings and then steered the conversation towards Mazda’s future. He discussed the mistakes Mazda has made in the past, and its past pursuits towards more market share. Those pursuits are now over.
According to Moro, Mazda’s business is about providing the very best vehicles to its customers and fostering such strong relationships with them that those customers won’t go anywhere else. “Deeper is better in terms of the bond with the customer,” Moro told us over lunch at a hotel in the heart of Chicago. “We will focus on deeper relationships with the customer.”
Building this type of brand loyalty takes time, effort, and, of course, a good product. Mazda seems to have the product side of things down. Its cars are highly regarded in both enthusiast and consumer circles. Consumer Reports lists all of Mazda’s vehicles as recommended buys, the company has won hundreds of awards for the current lineup worldwide, and its sales are steady.
Now the company has to take on the difficult challenge of creating and fostering strong bonds with its customers. The idea is that the brand will spur word of mouth among consumers through exceptional experiences. If buyers are enamored with their cars, they’ll tell friends. And those friends will go out and buy Mazdas and then tell more people. It’s the oldest form of marketing there is, and it’s a method that takes time. Moro said he sees this strategy paying off 20 or 30 years down the line.
In conjunction with this push to connect more with the customer, the brand also hopes to elevate itself to premium status. We’ve noted the excellent materials used in Mazda’s cars and the impeccable driving characteristics in our reviews. The vehicles almost feel like premium luxury cars, and Moro said that’s exactly what the company is shooting for.
Right now, approximately 60 percent of Mazda CX-9 and CX-5 sales are the top trim levels, according to Moro. This means they come with nicer interiors, the best materials offered, and all the bells and whistles. With this in mind, it makes sense for Mazda to try and become a premium level brand.
Moro said that the new CX-9 has drawn in buyers from other luxury brands. He didn’t name names or cite specific numbers, but he gave us the impression that the CX-9 is competing directly with vehicles of the same configuration (seven-passenger SUVs) from luxury automakers. The Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90 come to mind. They’re significantly more expensive, but the Mazda CX-9 is a worthy adversary, and it’s significantly cheaper, topping out around $45k.
Moro said there is room above the current highest trim levels for the company to expand its current offerings. The CX-9 comes in Signature trim, but if Mazda continues on the path that it seems to have set out for itself, there’s likely going to be something higher than that in the future. The same goes for the brand’s other models.
It’s important to note, that the ethos of the brand will remain intact. Mazda is still a driver-focused manufacturer. Moro said that although the products have to appeal to the passengers and drivers, the company is always going to be interested in making cars that are fun to drive. The idea of making anything else didn’t even seem to be on the table right now. “We want everyone to understand Mazda as Mazdas,” he said.
If Mazda succeeds and is able to connect with its buyers and move up as a premium brand, it will still stay true to its focus. Moro said that the company is happy to stay at its current market share. “I don’t believe in Mazda becoming a 10-15 percent [market share] player.”
This is a refreshing view because other automakers have gone different routes to expand their business. BMW is the first that comes to mind. The company’s focus used to be on building the ultimate driving machine, but now it seems interested in large luxury cars and crossovers. We just hope Mazda can avoid the siren song of a larger market share a focus on providing the best possible experience like it plans.