HIROSHIMA, Japan -- Mazda Motor Corp. could lose U.S. market share for the second time in three years as its sales growth trails that of the industry.
But that hardly bothers CEO Masamichi Kogai. He is doubling down on his "right-price" strategy in pursuit of better margins, brand power and residual values, even if it dents sales.
"We are sticking to our right-price policy, and we have been holding down our ratio of fleet models," Kogai said. "When customers understand that value, they perceive the car as something worth paying the right price for.
"Volume is one parameter for measuring success. But I am not focusing on volume," Kogai, 61, told Automotive News at the company's headquarters here. "We have been able to improve the quality of our sales. We are quite satisfied."
To elevate prices, Kogai relies on the Skyactiv suite of fuel-efficient drivetrains and chassis technologies, as well as Mazda's emotional exterior design and near-premium interiors.
So far, so good. Mazda's average transaction price rose to $26,010 in October from $24,845 a year earlier and $24,641 in October 2013, according to Kelley Blue Book. Mazda's 5.6 percent jump over two years beats increases of 4.8 percent at Subaru, 2.4 percent at Toyota and 1.1 percent at Honda.
Tim Fleming, a Kelley Blue Book analyst, praised the results: "Average transaction prices are on the rise, incentive spending is well below the nonluxury average and the fleet mix has remained relatively low at 10 to 11 percent. More importantly, keeping fleet low and not incentivizing will have a positive effect on residual values and long-term brand health."
But sales have lagged. In 2013, Mazda's U.S. sales rose 2.5 percent in a market up 7.6 percent, dropping its market share to 1.8 percent from 1.9 percent. In 2014, Mazda's sales grew 7.7 percent, outpacing the industry's 5.9 percent rise. This year through November, sales rose 3.2 percent, trailing the market's 5.4 percent increase, and Mazda's market share slid to 1.8 percent from 1.9 percent a year earlier. The slide was due in part to the sell-down of the discontinued Mazda2 subcompact and Mazda5 small van.
Kogai expects sales to rise with the introduction of new products: the CX-3 subcompact crossover and redesigned MX-5 Miata roadster this year and the redesigned CX-9 large crossover next spring. The CX-9 should add an incremental 40,000 sales.
"What's most important is having base hits with each product. The CX-3 and the MX-5 were our fifth and sixth batters. It's the seventh batter up to bat," Kogai, a former baseball player and avid fan, said. "We just need [the CX-9] to be a hit and get on base. It doesn't need to be a home run."