Randy Hiley, chairman of the Mazda National Dealer Advisory Council, understands that the brand is struggling in a tough market. Hiley, who owns two Mazda dealerships in Texas, hopes new products launched in 2006 will make sales go "zoom, zoom."
Mazda is scheduled to have five new vehicles this year, counting the CX-7 crossover that has already been introduced.
An uptick in sales could not come at a better time for Mazda dealers. They watched sales slip 2.1 percent in 2005. Hiley spoke with Staff Reporter Greg Bowens about the challenges facing Mazda.
What's the hot new product for Mazda?
The Mazda CX-7 crossover built in Japan. It should arrive at our dealerships in late March. The vehicle is getting incredibly good reviews. Other than that, the Mazda3 is the hottest vehicle we have on the ground right now.
What's not so hot?
The Mazda B-series pickup has been out of favor for a number of years now. The compact pickup segment for all manufacturers has been really slow.
What challenges do Mazda dealers face in the next year?
Rising interest rates present the biggest challenge. Mazda has put some extremely competitive products on the market. Our challenge is to control our business expenses with interest rates rising as we manage our facilities and execute our individual planning.
What is the top priority of the Mazda dealer council in 2006?
Our top priority is to work closely with Mazda so we can focus our marketing on the new products coming out this year. We just simply have to tell people about our products.
It has been a long time since we have announced so many new products in one year. I believe the last time we announced five new products was in 1992.
Another top issue for us is to have a stronger voice in product development in segments that we really don't compete in today. For example, at the Detroit auto show I saw Toyota, Honda and Nissan products poised to compete in the subcompact segment. Mazda has a lot of those kinds of cars in other markets, but none are slated to hit the United States. I would like to see us be competitive in that segment.
What is the No. 1 thing the factory can do to help Mazda dealers?
I've been in the Mazda business for 25 years and a dealer for 16 years. We still need to do a better job of telling our customers about our products.
While Mazda is on top of the online marketing, it comes back to spending more money on the overall marketing effort.
It is not just about advertising. It's about doing whatever it takes to sell the products.
Does Mazda listen to its dealer council?
We are always asking the head company in Japan to give us more money to market our product. They generally do. So it is not an adversarial relationship at all.
But from a marketing standpoint, in order to get Japan to give us more money for marketing, we must demonstrate that we can sell more cars. They can't just throw more money here if we can't sell more cars.
The other part is that Mazda has a great executive leadership team here in the U.S. with Jim O'Sullivan. With him, there are no arguments. You come in, sit down and work things out.
He attends all of the dealer meetings. In the past we have had leaders who would come to a meeting, stay for a minute and leave. Jim stays the full two days.
Do Mazda dealers have the right product mix?
I don't think dealers thought our product mix was where it needed to be in the past. That's why this year, with all the new products, is going to be a great year for Mazda. I'd be really surprised if we did not see a big bump in our market share this year.
The sales of big SUVs are declining, and from a dealer standpoint we have seen how the values of big SUVs have dropped significantly at auction. While there may be a small recovery, it seems like people are gravitating more toward crossovers.
Interestingly, we don't have a lot of customers asking us about hybrid vehicles. I'm going to guess that is because we don't have a hybrid to offer in the Mazda lineup.
Is Mazda trying to reposition itself as a brand?
We are definitely growing the Mazda brand. It started with the new RX-8. Then the Mazda3 became such a hit that it took off worldwide. We could have sold more cars in the United States had we been able to get them.
So Mazda has already begun to change the brand with the RX-8, Mazda3 and MX-5.
That change is reflected in our advertising. "Zoom, zoom" is part of our DNA.