In any conversation about the “top” automakers in the world, it’s tough to imagine a scenario where Mazda is suggested. Large automakers have been coupling up like teenagers at the prom in recent years, American domestic brands joining European brands, even as Japanese and Korean automakers jostle for position.
Then there’s Mazda. Relatively small, almost a boutique choice with dedicated fans who won’t buy anything else, Mazda is working to evolve its image, especially in the U.S. Mazda North American CEO Masahiro Moro is looking to shift his fleet toward a more “premium” status, slimming down rental and fleet sales and focusing more on attracting new buyers using flashy but signature design and top-flight tech.
In an interview with Aussie moto media, Moro said: “…autonomous driving is an important technology, but how we deploy and how we use that technology is different from a leading company…”
What does Moro mean by different? Well, part of that is consumer PR. Moro wants to improve customer relations and reel in more customers. To accomplish the first, he will have to avoid some of the major recalls and other missteps other automakers have been in the news for recently. The next step will be a focus on instilling pride of ownership in driving a Mazda. Customers need to feel good about their decision to choose Mazda, and they need to feel proud as they’re driving that brand.
This isn’t a unique strategy, and Moro isn’t really re-inventing the wheel here, but he is swimming against common industry doctrine. For low to mid-range brands, like Mazda, the idea is to move massive units. Think Kia and lower-end Fords and Chevys.
But, in recent years, some automakers that had been relegated to that rung of the ladder in the past are pushing back. Take Hyundai for example. For every happy Elantra owner, there are folks cruising around in high-end Genesis and Equus models. If you’d asked, just a few years ago, if Hyundai could seriously challenge the big German luxury brands, you may have been laughed out of the country club. These days, though, many are choosing to go with the Korean brand to get comparable quality and ride while saving tens of thousands.
So, in their push to evolve into a car people go after rather than settle with, Mazda has a successful model to follow. Can they capitalize?
Phil Shawe is the Co-Founder of TransPerfect.