SAN DIEGO - It's a marketing axiom that Americans don't like hatchbacks. But Mazda North American Operations will test the premise with a five-door version of the Protege compact sedan.
The Protege 5 looks like a wagon with a small cargo area. But as Mazda product marketing manager Gary Roudebush puts it, 'We won't pitch it as a true wagon alternative. Its cargo room is much less than either Focus or Saturn.'
So how does Mazda intend to sell 12,000 copies a year? By positioning it more as a sport wagon alternative to a young, hip crowd that may perceive sport-utilities as too big and expensive.
Sporty flairs such as massive fog lamps, front and rear spoilers, a three-spoke Nardi steering wheel and 16-inch wheels may help sell the idea that this vehicle is not cheap nor a dowdy wagon.
Since it is a relatively low-volume vehicle, Mazda will sell only one trim level, with the only options being a moonroof, side airbags and antilock brakes.
Mazda saves on cost because the running gear is identical to that of the ES-trim sedan, including the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine.
However, some suspension tweaks were necessary because of the different weight distribution of the wagon.
While the Protege sedan attracts nearly 65 percent women buyers, the Protege 5 will be targeted aggressively at single men. More than half would not consider a Mazda were it not for Protege 5, Roudebush said.
'We are conscious there is not really a successful five-door out there,' Roudebush said at the vehicle's media introduction here, but added:
'We think this also will appeal to a young couple who want cargo room with sportiness.'
The Protege 5 will make its public debut at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show on Jan. 3. Production is scheduled to start early in March, and sales will begin in May.
The price hasn't been announced.