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Saying ‘no’ worked for Mazda: Sales are stable

The 2009 Mazda6
DETROIT -- Jim O’Sullivan, Mazda’s top U.S. executive, recalls a time when auto dealers suggested the company make a pickup.

Call it the M-150, dealers said. They wanted something like the then-top-selling F-150 made by Ford Motor Co., Mazda’s partial owner.

Good thing he didn’t listen.

“We couldn’t go there with Mazda because it didn’t fit the brand,” O’Sullivan told Automotive News. “A lot of manufacturers went there. For Ford, it’s natural. But a lot of Asian-based manufacturers recently were looking at jumping into the fray. Some have, and now some of them are backing up.”

Mazda stuck to cars, and now O’Sullivan says it may be on its way to flat sales for the year in a market when nearly everyone else will be down.

Through the first half of 2008, Mazda sales are at 153,141 units. That’s up 0.3 percent from the first six months in 2007, a year in which it was the only automaker to post a double-digit sales increase.

‘Good steady growth’

“We didn’t chase volume for volume’s sake like a lot of other manufacturers,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re maintaining a good steady growth, and we’re going to continue to do it.”

O’Sullivan spoke on Wednesday, July 23, here at an event for the production launch of the redesigned Mazda6. The car is scheduled to arrive in dealerships next month.

While he didn’t give details on Mazda’s plans for overall growth, O’Sullivan said the Mazda6 will be a good indicator of how big the automaker can get in North America.

Mazda hopes to reach 100,000 units of the Mazda6 in full-year sales in North America, O’Sullivan said. In the United States last year, Mazda6 sales were 57,575.

“The previous-generation Mazda6 was built to fit the needs of the global market,” he said. “The Mazda6 that was built in Japan was identical to the one that was built here. We need North American-focused product now, and we’ve done that.”

Holding Mazda back in the United States is a shortage of its small Mazda3 car and Mazda5 minivan.

“We are limited on production, and we’re limited on volume because we’re selling them when we get our hands on them,” O’Sullivan said.

“I need substantially more Mazda3s and Mazda5s in this market -- several thousands more. I’ve got my hands up.”

High demand

Dan Morris, Mazda’s global sales and marketing manager in Japan, said Mazda is struggling to produce enough Mazda3s and Mazda5s because the vehicles are in high demand in other markets as well, such as Europe.

“We’ll continue to fill demand as best we can to meet the customers’ needs,” Morris told Automotive News.

O’Sullivan said Mazda’s 675 U.S. dealers have whittled inventory of the Mazda6 to prepare for the redesigned version’s launch. As a result, Mazda expects to see some diminished sales months.

He added: “We really don’t have a lot of cars out there right now, so our numbers are going to be off a bit for the month of July.”

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