LOS ANGELES -- Mazda, working to surpass 300,000 U.S. sales for the first time since the mid-1990s, plans to have its redesigned Mazda3 compact car in U.S. dealerships this fall, Automotive News has learned.
Three Mazda dealers said the Japanese automaker told them that it plans to release the third generation of its top-selling vehicle this fall. Automotive News had reported the launch would occur later in 2013 or in early 2014.
A Mazda spokesman declined to comment, citing company policy barring discussion of future products.
A fall debut of the Mazda3 will cap an overhaul of Mazda's entries in the industry's three largest segments in less than two years. The new CX-5 compact crossover debuted last spring and the redesigned 2014 Mazda6 mid-sized sedan went on sale last month.
The fresh vehicles, plus a bigger marketing presence, are keys to Mazda's goals of more than 300,000 U.S. sales this year and of sales growth that surpasses the industry's overall rate.
The Mazda3 has been the brand's perennial best-seller since it debuted in 2003 to replace the Protege. Mazda sold a record 123,361 Mazda3s in the United States last year, a 20 percent increase from 2011 despite the current generation being one of the oldest designs in the compact segment.
The vehicle also had an outsized 6 percent share of compact car sales last year, compared with Mazda's 1.9 percent share of the U.S. market overall.
Altogether, Mazda sold 277,046 vehicles in the United States last year, an 11 percent gain in a market that rose 13 percent.
Mike MacDonald, former chairman of Mazda's dealer council who owns two Mazda dealerships near Salt Lake City, Utah, says Mazda3 customer traffic in his showrooms has slowed as the Mazda3 has aged and since the CX-5 arrived. Mazda3 sales account for about 40 percent of his stores' sales, he says. That's down from about 50 to 60 percent of his mix prior to the CX-5, which has helped cushion much of the traffic decline, he said.
"The 3 is our top volume car," MacDonald said. "It's critical to our success to have a car like this that we can sell in volume."
Like the redesigned Mazda6, the upcoming Mazda3 will adopt the fuel efficient powertrains and lightweight chassis and frame designs from Mazda's Skyactiv technology portfolio. A Skyactiv 2.0-liter engine and new automatic and manual transmissions were added to midrange trims of the current Mazda3 for its 2013 model year freshening.
Sources close to the plans have said the Mazda3 will be powered by a Skyactiv 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with direct injection. A 2.5-liter engine is also expected to be offered as a more powerful option, and a source has said that Mazda also may offer a diesel engine from Mazda's Skyactiv engine family in the Mazda3 lineup.
Highway fuel economy is expected to exceed 40 mpg on the most fuel efficient models of the Mazda3. The current Mazda3 sedan is rated at 40 mpg on the highway.
The redesigned Mazda3 will also adopt the taut sheet metal of the company's "kodo" (Japanese for "soul of motion") design language, as well as its new trademark hexagonal grille seen on the Mazda6 and CX-5.