Mazda is a manufacturer of fun-to-drive, economical, and affordable vehicles. They’ve built their reputation around cars like the MX-5 Miata, Mazda3, and CX-5. Now their ambitions go beyond the Zoom-Zoom and firmly target premium luxury manufacturers like Lexus.
Manufacturers moving upscale is nothing new, as luxury cars are far more profitable than cheap economy cars. Mazda thinks it has what it takes to take on the luxury establishment and has outlined a plan that could see the Japanese company be a true contender in the segment.
Mazda’s plan for luxury domination starts with their new RWD platform
British car magazine Autocar recently interviewed Mazda UK’s managing director Jeremy Thomson. It is a timely interview as Mazda has just updated their best-selling CX-5 SUV and is about to unveil the all-new CX-60 SUV. This comes ahead of Mazda’s bigger plans to introduce more hybrid and EV models based on a new RWD chassis. Mazda has been slowly creeping upscale with their vehicles, but now Thomson reveals the extent of their plans.
When speaking with Autocar, Jeremy Thomson had this to say about Mazda’s future, “Our aspirations are to become a credible alternative to the traditional mainstream premium and that means non-German. We’re not looking to mimic German premium because that’s very well catered for with the existing incumbents and probably impossible to beat them at their own game.
“But we do strongly feel that there is a place for a Japanese premium and that means defining what we mean by Japanese premium and that will take some time to deliver.
“At the moment, of course, Lexus operates in that area and is about a third the size of Mazda in sales terms. We’re trying to find a slightly different space from where they sit today.”
Mazda doesn’t want to become a BMW or Mercedes-Benz
The interesting part of Mr. Thomson’s interview is his assertion that the brand does not want to copy what BMW and Mercedes-Benz do. Instead, Mazda wants to carve out its own niche and establish itself as a luxury brand alternative for buyers who want something different than traditional German luxury.
There are certainly plenty of opportunities for them to do that. The small Japanese manufacturer has always gone their own way. They developed some of the most interesting and fun-to-drive cars and SUVs. They have also pioneered quite a lot of innovative technology. If that continues, Mazda could prove to be a fantastic alternative from traditional luxury brands.
Lexus has always been referred to as the Japanese Mercedes-Benz, especially in reference to the large LS sedan. Mazda could position itself as a viable alternative to Lexus. But it needs to remain unique enough to avoid tiresome comparisons to traditional premium German brands.
What does this mean for future Mazda vehicles, and is there a danger that they could lose the fun-to-drive factor?
At the moment, this is all strategy and brand-positioning talk. That can change at any time and will likely take years to establish. The upcoming CX-60 SUV will go a long way to convince car shoppers that Mazda has the luxury goods. However, they are behind in terms of hybrid and EV models. They are making up ground, but still a ways off where they need to be.
The Miata and Mazda3 remain popular and are genuinely great to drive. That should mean there is little danger that Mazda will ditch those models in favor of upscale luxury cars. We could expect their performance and sport models to get more luxury features, better technology, and potentially hybrid or fully electric powertrains.
In regards to the fun-to-drive factor that Mazda is so well known for, Thomson had this to say, “The belief that the driver is at the heart of the car is more than just a brand cliché: it really is something that is designed in to Mazda products, going back to the fundamentals of Mazda MX-5 [Miata].”
For enthusiasts, that should mean crisis averted. For buyers looking for an alternative to traditional luxury brands, Mazda could prove to be an exciting new option. Could we even see a revival of the rotary engine? Here’s hoping Mazda can pull off its ambitious plans while still maintaining the characteristics that make the brand’s cars so enjoyable to drive.