TOKYO -- Mazda Motor Corp. is betting big on its Mazda3 small car, predicting global sales will jump by nearly a third with the just-released redesign. It also expects a Mexico-built version will help North America capture a bigger chunk of worldwide volume while providing fatter profit margins.
Global Mazda3 sales are expected to reach 500,000 units a year, CEO Masamichi Kogai said. That is up from 384,000 in 2012. The target represents about 30 percent of Mazda's global midterm sales goal of 1.7 million units in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2016.
North America already accounts for roughly 40 percent of the Mazda3's global sales, Kogai said. But the redesigned car, which went on sale in the United States in September with Mazda's new Skyactiv platform and powertrain, should gobble an even bigger portion, he predicted.
It is Mazda's best-selling nameplate in the United States, with 123,361 sold last year. Canada is the car's No. 2 market, with sales of 39,295 last year, followed by Japan.
Surging demand for sedans in that segment will spur sales. But so will a locally built version that that will be built at a new factory in Mexico starting in the first quarter of 2014.
The Mexico-built car eventually will supplant Mazda3s imported from Japan. That will mean bigger profits on each one sold, Mazda3 chief engineer Kenichirou Saruwatari said. He declined to say how much margins would improve, but said they "will increase for sure."
For starters, labor and component costs are cheaper in Mexico, he said. Assembling cars there also will protect Mazda from currency fluctuations that can hammer profits on cars shipped from Japan. But the biggest reason is that Mexico Mazda3s won't be slapped with the 2.5 percent tariffs applied to Japan imports into the United States.
The higher margins may give Mazda more wiggle room to spend more on marketing or advertising.
In Japan, Mazda offers hybrid and diesel Mazda3 variants. The hybrid, based on technology licensed from Toyota Motor Corp., is Mazda's first electric-gasoline vehicle.
But Saruwatari said those were nonstarters for the United States.
The prevalence of high-speed, long-distance driving in the United States negates the fuel savings delivered by hybrids, which are more efficient in stop-and-go traffic. And the gasoline version's 41 mpg highway rating, he said, is good enough to render the pricier diesel unnecessary.