LOS ANGELES -- Mazda is seeing some of the first fruits of its effort to distance itself from a pack of middle-of-the-road brands.
After going on sale in January, the Mazda6 now commands the highest average transaction price in the cutthroat mid-sized sedan segment, according to data from TrueCar.com. Meanwhile, Mazda's CX-5 compact crossover, in its second year on the market, saw its average transaction price for August rise 3 percent from a year earlier, putting it at No. 5 in an equally crowded, competitive segment.
TrueCar's data showed that consumers paid an average of $26,567 for a Mazda6 in August, more than $1,400 above the average paid for a Ford Fusion, which finished No. 2 in the segment last month. A year earlier, the previous-generation Mazda6 was third from the bottom, beating only the Chevrolet Malibu and Hyundai Sonata.
The price comparisons exclude mid-sized sedans powered by diesel, hybrid or plug-in hybrid powertrains. Mazda offers only one powertrain in the Mazda6, a 2.5-liter gasoline engine, but a diesel version is coming next spring.
To ensure its viability as a small, independent automaker, Mazda has sought to carve out a niche as a more-premium player among mainstream brands such as Honda, Toyota, Hyundai and Ford and has made commanding higher transaction prices a priority.
"One of our strategies related to this idea of being an 'alternative to premium' is getting our consumers to be willing to pay more for our products," Russell Wager, vice president of marketing for Mazda North American Operations, said in an interview last month.
Wager credited new and updated vehicles from what Mazda refers to as its "sixth generation" product line, which fully incorporate Mazda's Skyactiv portfolio of lightweight-platform and fuel-efficient powertrain technologies. So far, those vehicles are the CX-5 compact crossover and redesigned Mazda6.
Meanwhile, Mazda's advertising has emphasized fuel economy and design rather than pricing. While many brands pitched big-deal sales events in ads last month, Mazda ran a 30-second "new-model celebration" spot featuring the CX-5, Mazda6 and recently freshened CX-9 crossover, without pitching any special offers.
Like most other automakers, Mazda has also raised prices for its newest vehicles. But consumers haven't flinched so far. Mazda6 sales more than doubled in June and July and in August, when sales rose to 4,249 units from 1,592 a year earlier. Wager said higher trim levels of the updated Mazda6 are in highest demand, while the previous generation sold more lower- and middle-trim versions.
Kristen Andersson, an analyst for TrueCar.com, says the pricing and sales gains show that consumers are responding to the Mazda6's improved fuel economy, and they underscore the fact that transaction prices are going up in general as car buyers opt for better-equipped vehicles. "The fact that the product is doing so well shows that consumers will actually pay that price for the vehicle," Andersson said. "That speaks volumes to what the Mazda6 is doing for them."