It has been a while since Mazda dealers asked the factory for more product and inventory. But strong sales of the new Tribute sport wagon have created momentum.
This spring, Mazda will introduce the Protege MP3 edition and the Protege5 sport wagon. But replacements for the aging 626, Millenia and B-series pickup are a couple years away, as is the RX-8 sports car.
"The new products will solve our long-term woes. But until then, we have to be aggressive," said Sansone, owner of Sansone's Route 1 Mazda in Avenel, N.J. "They want to push the brand at the national level, but they have to spend the dollars at the local and regional levels to make it go."
Charlie Hughes, in his first major dealer meeting since becoming president of Mazda North American Operations last October, understands the danger of placing new marketing images on old products. "Our No. 1 issue is creating demand, getting on more shopping lists," he said.
Hughes predicts Mazda will show modest sales growth in 2001 thanks to a full year of Tribute sales and the arrival of the new Protege models. Although the Tribute has been selling well, Mazda was hurt by launch quality problems at Ford's Kansas City, Mo., plant that builds the vehicle.
Hughes declined to give per-vehicle warranty costs on the Tribute, but he said Mazda has quality assurance teams at the plant, giving "open, candid communications" on how to improve build quality.
One dealer expressed caution at the possibility of a product parade.
"Mazda is a small company with lots of badges and cars. They need to simplify the lineup and help the people see that all those cars are Mazdas," said Ray Hart, owner of a dealership in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
Until those new products arrive, Mazda must continue to push the value story. Mazda American Credit has created a "customer value team" with reps from the sales arm as well as dealers to create more competitive financing packages, Hughes said.
He also expressed concern for dealer profitability, especially for single-line dealers.
"We improved last year with the Tribute, but it's never where you want it to be," Hughes said.
As usual, there were some dealer-specific issues at the meeting.
Gary Leverenz, owner of Waco (Texas) Mazda, has been disappointed in the slow reaction time from Mazda in paying back co-op advertising expenses to dealers.