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It's both a bold strategy and a logical next step for a brand with a loyal following and aspirational goals, but is Mazda's premium push working?
The Japanese brand has long held a position of so-called 'semi-premium' status in the local market. Finding a middle ground between mainstream rivals like Toyota and Hyundai without directly challenging the obviously more luxurious brands, such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
At least that was the case until the launch of the CX-60 and CX-90, the first two models that are part of its 'Large Product Group' strategy to challenge the premium brands more directly. This week Mazda Australia confirmed it will launch the CX-70 before the end of 2024, having already confirmed the addition of the CX-80. That means Mazda Australia is the only major market in the world that will take all four of these new SUV models, as the CX-60/CX-80 was designed primarily for the European market and the CX-70/CX-90 were targeted at North America.
But that shouldn't come as a total surprise, as Mazda Australia has often been able to convince Mazda HQ to provide more options here. It also fits because Australia was the unplanned case study for this premium concept that has now gone global. Elsewhere in the world Mazda is a relatively minor player compared to its Australian success, as the second best-selling brand. For example, in the USA Mazda sold 363,354 vehicles in 2023, which was only a very small share of a market of more than 15.5 million sales.
The early indications are positive for Mazda, the CX-60 sold more than 2700 units in 2023 (despite not being on sale all year) to claim 4.3 per cent of the medium SUV over $60,000 market, while the CX-90 already claimed a 2.1 per cent share of the over $70,000 large SUV sector. However, both models were still out-sold by the out-going CX-8 and CX-9, the more affordable options that defined the 'semi-premium' status.
Despite this, Vinesh Bhindi, Mazda Australia's Managing Director, is happy with how the more upmarket push from the brand is going in the local market. However, despite the addition of the CX-70 and CX-80, he is adamant that the brand won't exclusively focus on the higher end of the market.
"I'm satisfied with our progress," he said. "This is something new for the brand in terms of what we call 'Mazda Premium', to take our existing customers first and foremost on a path and a journey and give them an option.
"But we're not giving up our existing ground. There's always value that we have to demonstrate and we intend to keep that. We've got good options of products in our portfolio. But yes, we still have further potential when it comes to the large platform products. And as we move into the next phase of the launch programs and as products arrive our opportunities will evolve."
It hasn't been all smooth sailing though, with both the CX-60 and CX-90 receiving criticism for their firm ride, which is out-of-character with the rest of the Mazda range. Bhindi explained that this is a deliberate choice from the engineering team behind the car, which is attempting to give all the models on the rear-biased all-wheel drive 'Large Product Group' underpinnings a sportier, more dynamic edge. Asked whether this would change with the incoming CX-70, in response to the criticism, Bhindi said there was an open dialogue with the product development team, but stopped short of saying any changes would happen.
"There's a channel back to the program manager, the program team are in communication back in Hiroshima, and that applies to all of our products," he explained. "They're very keen to hear people's views and evaluation of their products.
"[At the CX-60 & CX-90 launch] he shared with the team at the time, [and] the journalists who attended, that they believe they have delivered on the targets that was set by themselves. They believe the firm ride helps the sportiness to deliver the jinba ittai they wanted to deliver. But they always are open for [other] people's views, objective evaluation and what they do from there is a decision they'll make.
"For every Mazda product there's always a constant level of evolution, improvement changes that goes on behind the scenes. I'm sure they'll take the reviews and make decisions on whether to change or do something different or package it differently. And if that happens, and when that happens,we'll share the news and obviously you'll get to experience it yourself. So yeah, that's the way we are with those comments."
The CX-70 is due to hit Australian showrooms by the end of 2024. Exactly how it will fit in the line-up remains to be seen as Mazda has not released detailed specifications and dimensions, but reports from its US launch indicate it is the same size as the seven-seat CX-90 but simply misses out on the third row seating. This would put it into direct conflict with both the CX-90 and CX-60 and make for a very crowded showroom for buyers looking for a new SUV from Mazda.
Mazda Australia Marketing Director, Alistair Doak, played down the crossover between the expanding 'Mazda Premium' line-up and said the local operation was determined to offer buyers as much choice as possible.
"There is an obvious size [difference], a step up from the 60. There's no question about that. So, realistically, it just comes down to lifestyle," Doak explained.
"If you want that extra space, if you prefer to drive a bigger car with a pretty sporty look to it. So if that's your preference, then obviously you'll default to [the CX-70]. So you could see it as kind of the flagship of a five-seat SUV line-up. And for some people that's enough.
"You know, they go in and say, 'Well, I want the biggest and the best'. And you would default to 70 there. For other people, then maybe 70 will be too big and they would prefer to stay in a 60 or a [CX-5] or a CX-30 or a CX-3. So, you know, there's lots of choice there, which has obviously always been our position of offering as much choice to consumers as possible."