Robert Davis likes to go fast.
Mazda's senior vice president of U.S. operations races RX-8s and MX-5 Miatas in his spare time. He ran the 1991 Mazda 787 Le Mans race car at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion last August, attacking Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca at speeds of nearly 200 mph.
But Laguna Seca isn't the only place where Davis needs to zoom-zoom.
Mazda is racing to boost its U.S. market share to 2.5 percent and sales to 400,000 vehicles by 2014. The ambitious goal -- a 74 percent gain over 2010 U.S. sales of 229,566 units -- would be a milestone for the company. Mazda has never sold 400,000 vehicles in its nearly 40 years in this country.
And the company faces significant obstacles. For instance, Mazda is highly vulnerable to the profit-punishing strength of the Japanese yen. Japan-made vehicles account for 85 percent of its U.S. sales.
Whether it will assemble vehicles in the United States to offset the yen's pressure is unclear. Mazda said in June that it will cease production of the Mazda6 at the AutoAlliance International assembly plant in Flat Rock, Mich., when the car's life cycle ends, probably around 2012. The plant is Mazda's 50-50 joint venture with Ford Motor Co. and its only U.S. manufacturing center. A new 140,000-unit plant in Salamanca, Mexico, is scheduled to be producing small cars in 2013. That output, originally meant for Latin America, also may come to the United States, Mazda says.
Also, Mazda is moving away from sharing high-volume platforms with Ford. That means that Mazda has to shoulder the full cost of vehicle development. But Davis says the company is ready to boost sales.
"Our product strategy and what we have in the pipeline is going to allow us to grow," he said. "What that market share becomes and what the total sales number becomes depends really on where the industry ends up, but we see our growth led by our ability to keep our current customers and attract the young customers that we're already doing pretty well with."
Here's what Mazda executives see as the brand's strengths:
-- A dealer network with more exclusive stores and improving customer-experience ratings.
-- Higher quality vehicles with strong residuals.
-- Lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles that maintain performance and show a new design language.
-- More aggressive and focused advertising with a new agency.