Originally published June 27, 1994

FROM OUR ARCHIVES: Mazda celebrates five years of Miata-mania

Roadster redefined automaker's image

IRVINE, Calif. - Sports car enthusiast David Reynolds believes certain cars capture the spirit of an era. Reynolds felt that way about the 19641/2 Ford Mustang. Now there's the Mazda Miata.

Reynolds and his wife, Leigh Ann, sound like a Mazda marketer's dream. They rave about the retro styling that hearkens to a simpler time, the sportiness that doesn't sacrifice drivability or practicality, and the modern engineering that makes reliability and maintenance a non-issue.

'I had an Alfa Romeo and a Porsche, and this gives you the same kind of feel, but it doesn't cost you as much money,' said Leigh Ann Reynolds. 'It's a way of having fun without a tremendous financial risk.'

The couple, of Pasadena, Calif., are part of a group of more than 100 Miata owners who attended the Miata's fifth anniversary festivities at Mazda Research and Development of North America headquarters here last week. A similar group gathered in Indianapolis two weeks ago.

At the California event, Miata owners chased down Mazda executives, designers, engineers - anyone connected with the program - to autograph some piece of Miata memorabilia.

Many of the group said they never would have considered buying a Mazda before the Miata. Mazda hopes its Miata maniacs' newfound loyalty will cross over into the mainstream products.

The Miata, which went on sale in June 1989, was the opening salvo in a barrage of bold designs from Mazda. In the late '80s, Mazda Motor Corp. directed its designers to give Mazda a corporate identity and culture based on the owners' love affair with the car, said Tom Matano, chief designer of Mazda R&D.

'Our cars were to get a flavor where a consumer could tell the car was a Mazda. It's a slow, subliminal process, and one you hope gets transferred over to the mainstream sedans,' said Matano, who was on the Miata design team.

After the Miata came new versions of most of Mazda's fleet: the 929, RX-7, MX-3, 626, MX-6 and the Millenia - none of them vanilla cars. With them, Mazda has gone from a company without an image to a style leader.

The Miata hasn't generated a sales windfall, but Mazda has gained nicely with it. Mazda sold about 225,000 cars annually during the Miata's first three years on the market, when the Miata was strongest. The Miata has slipped since then, but Mazda's overall car volume has climbed, setting a record 259,890 last year. This year, Mazda's car sales are up nearly 25 percent, and the Miata is doing better than that.

'The Miata is what a car should be, and what really isn't seen anywhere in the marketplace,' Matano said. 'If you look at Hondas, by comparison, they have no cars like that. They have nothing that says, 'Here is a simple, purified statement you can trust.' It's our responsibility to produce cars like the Miata, not something like the Corolla.'

John Campbell, who owns a Mazda dealership in Huntington Beach, Calif., said the Miata is his biggest seller - 40 a month. He says it's the strongest type of draw to bring people in.

'Before the Miata, Mazda was known for the rotary engine - which is kind of a haunting memory due to early reliability problems it had,' Campbell said. 'The Miata clearly helped redefine Mazda as far as leadership in design. It put Mazda on the map.'

-----------------------------------------------------------------------MIATA SALES 150,992 AND COUNTING

1994 14,204 1993 21,588 1992 24,964 1991 31,240 1990 35,944 1989 23,052

Through May

Source: Automotive News Data Center

You can reach Mark Rechtin at mrechtin@crain.com
Tags: Mazda Miata

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