Over the last two months, Mazda, that
great tiny bastion of four-cylinder engines and SkyActiv and adding lightness, has sold more crossovers than cars in the United States.
Yes, that Mazda. The Mazda that had to rebadge Fords to bring its first two SUVs to market. The Mazda that, only four years ago, produced two-thirds of its U.S. sales with passenger cars.
Unfortunately, the gains now produced by Mazdaâ€™s CX crossover division arenâ€™t enough to counteract the plunging sales of Mazdaâ€™s three remaining cars. As a result, Mazdaâ€™s U.S. market share is down to just 1.7 percent through 2016â€™s first eight months.
The good news for Mazda? Company bosses saw this coming. As part of a long-term strategy, Mazda is sticking to its guns, unwilling to overreact to disappointing short-term results with short-term fixes.
Mazda customer loyalty is poor. The companyâ€™s renewed focus on customer satisfaction does not result in overnight change.
For example, improving customer satisfaction requires improved resale values, which necessitates a cutback in sales to daily rental fleets, which decreases the brandâ€™s total U.S. sales volume, giving the impression of sliding demand.
Meanwhile, alliances with larger rivals areÂ necessary for Mazda to move forward on the technical front. But such partnerships take time to breed results before they’reÂ obvious to the outside world.
As a result, wrote Paul Eisenstein after a discussion with Mazdaâ€™s North American CEO Masahiro Moro, â€œit will take Mazda two complete generations of new vehicles to fully transform itself.â€�
Some transitions take place quickerÂ than expected, however. It was only one year ago that Mazda’s Moro told Automotive News, â€œI wish that more than 50 percent of our total [U.S.] sales in two or three years be crossovers.â€�
12 months after that interview with Automotive News, Moroâ€™s U.S. Mazda operations gleaned 53 percent of the brandâ€™s sales from the CX-3, CX-5, and CX-9, the brandâ€™s trio of crossovers.
The relatively sudden reliance upon crossovers at Mazda USA isnâ€™t all down to the CX sub-brandâ€™s surge. In August, for example, Mazda sold 13,983 CX-3s, CX-5s, and CX-9s, a 1,483 year-over-year improvement. But during the same year-over-year period, Mazda lost nearly 4,800 sales from the Mazda 3, Mazda 6, and the MX-5 Miata, all of which recorded sharp U.S. sales declines.
After the 3, 6, and MX-5 combined for a 7-percent sales increase in calendar year 2015 â€” the car divisionâ€™s total volume fell 1 percent because of the Mazda 2â€™s disappearance â€” plunging car sales have become the norm at Mazda this year.
The midsize Mazda 6 is struggling as a low-tier player in a struggling segment, and lower-tier players inevitably suffer first and worst. Mazda 6 sales are down 25 percent this year.
Despite a refresh and some added tech for model year 2017, itâ€™s unlikely that the oft-rejected Mazda 3, no matter how spectacularly it drives, can quickly rebound from 2016â€™s discouraging results. Mazda 3 sales are down 10 percent this year.
â€œWe’re hoping it will rebound with a revised pricing structure, more features and some cool, new technology like G-Vectoring Control,â€� Mazda spokesperson Jacob Brown says of the 3. â€œBut, trends being what they are, customers seem to prefer CUVs at the moment, so we’re building some really great vehicles that cater to those needs and wants.â€�
Sales of the Mazda MX-5 Miata were on the upswing through the first-half of 2016, doubling through June. But in the two-seat roadster world, with time comes decreased demand. The MX-5 is no longer enjoying pent-up demand, and July/August volume tumbled 31 percent, a 770-unit loss in concert with 940 additional sales of its Italian platform partner, the Fiat 124 Spider. Four percent of Mazda USA volume is Miata-generated.
On the crossover side of the ledger, consistently improving sales of the Mazda CX-5, the brandâ€™s best seller in the United States in 35 of the last 43 months, make itÂ Americaâ€™s 20th-best-selling SUV/crossover.
Yet the CX-5 is the sole source of real strength in Mazdaâ€™s crossover lineup. Sales of the hugely attractive Mazda CX-9 are beginning to increase as the second-generation CX-9 comes on stream, but Mazda has limited capacity for the CX-9. Globally, Mazda expects to sell 50,000 units per year, 80 percent of which will find homes in North America. These production levels automatically make the CX-9 a small player in a segment where the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, and Nissan Pathfinder will combine for more than 350,000 sales this year. Mazda is nevertheless pleased with the new CX-9â€™s start.
â€œWe’re starting to see people coming in both from mainstream automakers as well as luxury automakers,â€� Mazda spokesperson Jacob Brown told TTAC yesterday. â€œIt’s doing exactly what it needed to do, and it’s doing it at a price point where few offerÂ the craftsmanship and design that CX-9 offers.â€�
More bewildering are oddly poor results from the Mazda CX-3. Seven subcompact crossovers outsell the CX-3, five sell more than three times as often, three sell more than four times as often. Year-to-date, the CX-3 is outselling the Mini Countryman and Fiat 500X, but it earns just 4 percent market share in a 10-vehicle category. With nearly 4,800 CX-3s in stock, according to Cars.com, Mazda has roughly three months of supply. But all of the CX-3â€™s driverâ€™s appeal seems lost on U.S. consumers. CX-3 sales are almost as numerous in Canada, a much smaller market in which Mazdaâ€™s market share is twice as strong.
Helped along by an unfortunate decrease in car volume, Mazda hit Masahiro Moroâ€™s 50-percent crossover target much sooner than expected. But thereâ€™s room for that figure to climb higher â€” much higher â€” in relatively short order.
With no immediate plans to bring the CX-4 to North America, the CX-3 could become the central figure in any plan to push the CX division forward. For now, both in the U.S. and globally, the CX-3 is not considered by Mazda to be among its key vehicles. â€œHowever, it is anticipated that CX-3 will become a core model soon, as it is selling exceptionally well in Europe and the ASEAN markets, and trends appear to continue that momentum,â€� Brown says. â€œWe are priced alongside competitors, and our product is more than competitive.â€�
More than competitive, indeed. But at the moment, American consumers either disagree or have failed to notice.
Timothy Cain is the founder ofÂ GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcarÂ and on Facebook.