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Why Mazda can count 2020 as a success despite big sales drop of Mazda 2, Mazda 3 and Mazda 6

The Mazda3 was once Australia's best-selling passenger car, but in 2020 it sold 14,663 units for 13th place.

Was Mazda ahead of the game or just plain lucky? Either way the Japanese brand made it through a difficult 2020 with plenty of reasons to be happy and hopeful that 2021 will be better.

Early in 2020 we wrote that the year presented many challenges for Mazda, specifically the declining popularity of its Mazda3 small car and increasing competition from its arch-rivals Toyota, Hyundai and now Kia.

And these were the questions the brand faced before the arrival of COVID-19 made matters worse for the industry as a whole. Which is why Mazda’s 2020 result of 85,640 sales isn’t too bad, even though it represents a 12.3 per cent decline on 2019. For starters, that’s ahead of the market’s 13.7 per cent drop thanks to the pandemic-induced problems.

But, like the industry as a whole, Mazda enjoyed a stronger finish to the year up 42 per cent on December 2019; suggesting a 2021 bounceback is on the cards.

How, though, did Mazda fare with the other questions we posed at the start of 2020?

Is the Mazda3 strategy working?

One of the biggest changes the brand has undertaken in recent years is its push to take the Mazda3 down a more premium path. Whereas it was once the best-selling car in the country, the Mazda3 is no longer even in the top three small cars, slipping to fourth behind the Kia Cerato, as predicted. Sales were down more than 40 per cent in 2020, selling more than 10,000 less Mazda3s than they did in 2019.

Mazda Australia is adamant it wants to sell fewer examples of the hatch and sedan but ensure the ones they do are better equipped and carry a higher profit margin. While the company hasn’t released a breakdown in variants sold, it’s on track to hit the brand’s target of selling between 1300-1400 per month.

Amid the difficulties of last year, it managed to average approximately 1200 per month, so if 2021 continues the strong finish of 2020, it could rebound back to its 2019 levels.

New metal: The CX-30

Mazda only launched one all-new model in 2020, so there was a lot of pressure on the CX-30 small SUV to perform. The crossover came through in a big way though, notching 8998 sales and becoming the fourth best-selling model in the small SUV segment (behind the Mitsubishi ASX, Hyundai Kona and Kia Seltos).

That’s a positive sign for Mazda as the CX-30 is backed up by strong sales of the smaller CX-3, which only suffered a 5.8 per cent decline and cemented its dominant position at the top of the light SUV segment.

The timely arrival and sales success of the CX-30 and CX-3 suggests the brand has read the market demand for smaller SUVs well; a positive sign for the future.

Is CX-5 fighting a losing battle?

The arrival of the CX-30 helped mitigate some of the decline of its big brother, the CX-5. The once most-popular mid-size SUV has been on the back-foot since the arrival of the all-new Toyota RAV4 in the middle of 2019.

There’s no question Toyota now has the upper hand, especially with Mazda offering no alternative to the increasingly popular hybrid RAV4, as the sales chart clearly demonstrates. The CX-5 suffered a drop of 13.9 per cent in 2020, while the RAV4 enjoyed a nearly 60 per cent increase in sales as supply caught up with demand.

However, the CX-5 is still a strong second choice for most buyers, remaining number two in the medium SUV market, notching 21,979 sales in 2020. But with an all-new Hyundai Tucson coming in 2021, the CX-5 will be under increasing pressure this year.

Will the upmarket push mean sales chart decline?

This was the question we posed to conclude our story last year - would the premium focus on Mazda3, and the RAV4 stealing sales from the CX-5 allow Hyundai and Mitsubishi to close the gap and potentially even overtake Mazda?

The short answer is no. Mazda remains firmly in second place, well behind Toyota, but with a 9.3 per cent market share. Importantly, despite losing nearly 12,000 sales Mazda managed to actually fractionally increase its market share, up from 9.2 per cent in 2019.

Still, with Hyundai introducing several key models in 2021 and Kia planning to unleash a new product offensive in the next 18 months, Mazda cannot afford to relax if it wants to retain its position in the market.