Mazda will boost marketing and lease support for its Mazda6 sedan in the spring, as the automaker tries to make inroads in a segment dominated by the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
The new sedan and the new RX-8 sports car coming this summer are expected to push franchise sales from 258,213 in 2002 to about 300,000 this year, Charlie Hughes, president of Mazda North American Operations, said at the make meeting.
Most of the gain will be on the retail side. While the outgoing 626 and Millenia sold 58,755 units last year, only 37,000 were retail. Mazda is slashing the fleet presence of the Mazda6 by comparison. Once wagon and five-door hatchback versions arrive later in the year, Mazda wants to sell about 100,000 units annually.
The Mazda6 went on sale in December with heavy advertising support. Mazda has planned to ramp up another round of advertising in March and April as part of a sustained launch of the car.
"They're asking us to be patient," said Michael McDonald, dealer principal of Bountiful Mazda, north of Salt Lake City. "They know what needs to be done."
Many Mazda customers are used to the deal of the week from the franchise, especially with competitors floating cash-back offers. However, the Mazda6 is bringing in customers who are interested in the car but not ready to buy it.
"We're not used to people walking out of the showroom," said dealer council chairman Karl Schmidt, dealer principal of Morrie's Mazda in Minnetonka, Minn.
"We have traffic, but we're not closing. We don't have that $1,000 cash back like we used to, and that's frustrating dealers."
Mazda is reassured by data from Allison-Fisher International that show that those consumers not buying Mazda didn't defect to another brand, Hughes said. They just weren't ready to buy.
"The numbers show we're on track better than Nissan Altima was at this time, but it takes time to reach a critical mass," Hughes said.
Mazda is planning to put a subvented lease plan on the car, even though Mazda has weaker residual values than Camry and Accord and has to work financing through Ford Motor Credit.
"There is no money factor help or anything from Mazda America Credit," Schmidt said. "(The sales arm) should give dealers lease cash and let us find the best rate on the open market."
Mazda also will beef up its regional marketing support of the car by detailing the value of the Mazda6, said Kristen Simmons, Mazda vice president of marketing.
Said Simmons: "It's a great car at an accessible price, but we haven't been speaking to in-market shoppers."