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Mazda has been one of the greatest automotive success stories in Australia over the past decade, but 2020 could be its most difficult year yet.
The Japanese brand has been firmly ensconced as the second best-selling brand in the country, the nearest rival to Toyota, throughout the last decade thanks to its blend of practicality, consistency and style.
However, it has continued to push further upmarket into the so-called ‘semi-premium’ space between mainstream and the European luxury brands, and that has seen a sales decline.
In fact, a glance at the sales figures from February make some pretty gloomy reading for Mazda. Overall sales are down more than 25 per cent, Mazda3 sales are down almost half, the CX-5 is down 18.6 per cent and the Mazda6 is also down more than 40 per cent.
Scratch a little deeper, though, and things don’t look quite so bad with the Mazda3 still popular with private buyers and an all-new CX-30 has just arrived to cater to the booming small-SUV market.
Is the Mazda3 strategy working?
One of the most notable differences for Mazda throughout 2019 and now into 2020 has been the steep drop in Mazda3 sales. While it may look like time to panic, with sales down 49.6 per cent year-to-date, in reality Mazda believes the Mazda3 is right where it should be.
Yes, it’s no longer the best-selling car in the country (as it started the decade) and yes, it has even dropped out of the top-10 new vehicles in February, but Mazda Australia has taken a very deliberate strategy to offer a more premium small car and ditched the circa-$20k Neo model popular with fleet buyers.
Instead, it has continued its focus on private customers, selling better equipped cars at a higher price for better profitability. The brand also hopes the better-equipped cars will retain value better, which should ultimately lead to more repeat business.
In February, it sold 1435 examples, which is in the ballpark of Mazda’s original projections for this new, more premium range.
“Mazda3 has been well received by the market, earning plaudits for its more premium design and high level of technology,” explained a Mazda spokesman. “Sales have tracked as expected and shared with the media at its launch last year.”
Even at 1300-1400 per month, the Mazda3 will be within the top four best-selling small cars, but don’t be surprised if the Kia Cerato overtakes it on the sales charts by the end of the year as the closest rival to the Toyota Corolla and Hyundai i30.
New metal: The CX-30
After the arrival of the new Mazda3 in 2019, Mazda only has one all-new offering for 2020. Fortunately it’s an important one - the CX-30.
While it crosses over with both the Mazda3 and CX-3, Mazda is confident the continued growth of the small-SUV market will ensure the CX-30 adds incremental sales to it as a brand.
Realistically, though, given how similar in size and price they are, it remains highly likely that there will be some would-be Mazda3 buyers that will instead opt for the high-rider instead.
Skyactiv-X is coming
While the CX-30 will be the only new model, 2020 will herald the arrival of the long-anticipated Skyactiv-X technology.
Effectively a compression-ignition petrol engine, Skyactiv-X promises reduced fuel consumption without any of the complexity of a hybrid system.
It’s expected to arrive later in the year as a new powertrain option in both the Mazda3 and CX-30, providing another boost for those models.
As for electrification, Mazda Australia hasn’t committed to anything officially, but the MX-30 electric crossover is a strong chance for Australia but not until 2021.
Is CX-5 fighting a losing battle?
The brand’s once dominant mid-size SUV has been well and truly knocked off its perch by the latest Toyota RAV4.
The big problem is the current CX-5 is only three years old, having launched in 2017, so it still has at least half of its lifecycle left to run. That will make it difficult to recover the lost momentum to the RAV4, but Mazda can take heart in the fact that despite its significant sales drop it remains comfortably the second most popular SUV in its class.
“The mid-size SUV market is very competitive at the moment, but CX-5 remains popular and continues to operate at the pointy end of the segment,” the spokesman said. “We’ll continue to keep CX-5 fresh with annual updates while maintaining our laser-like focus on customer service.
“Meanwhile, we’ve worked hard to ensure we have a fairly even sales split across our vehicle lines and have been pleased to see CX-30 launch to a strong start.”
Will the upmarket push mean sales chart decline?
Mazda sales may have been in decline so far in 2020, but fortunately for the Japanese brand so are its nearest rivals, Hyundai and Mitsubishi, so they have retained second place in the sales charts.
However, the dark horse in the field is Kia, which is one of only three brands so far in 2020 to increase its sales. It’s still quite a distance from Mazda (which has a 9% market share, compared to 6.4% for Kia), but if Mazda’s sales continue to trend as they have, it’s possible there could be a rearrangement in the standings come December.
Mazda is unfazed.
“Mazda is focused on sustainable, profitable business that puts customers first,” the spokesman said.
“We have never and will never go chasing sales – with big discounts or to large fleet and rental companies – as this will have a detrimental effect on customer vehicle resale rates.
“We will continue to offer innovative and exciting products, supported by market-leading customer service. Whether we are number two, three or four makes no difference ultimately.”