HIROSHIMA, Japan -- Mazda Motor Corp. CEO Masamichi Kogai, fighting sliding sales and a tougher U.S. auto market, is banking on an ambitious next-generation product plan to lift the boutique Japanese brand above its mass-market competitors.
In an interview, Kogai described the strategy as a two-step jump to break from the pack in terms of brand image, pricing power and profitability.
Step one came in 2012 with the debut of Mazda's Skyactiv lightweight platform and range of fuel-efficient powertrains. Step two now kicks off with the next-generation CX-5 crossover unveiled in November in Los Angeles.
The CX-5 is the lead nameplate for a lineup overhaul that will culminate in the full deployment of Skyactiv 2 products by March 31, 2019.
"We need two successful jumps up," Kogai said in a November interview at the carmaker's global headquarters here. "Now we are going to start our offensive again."
Mazda is one of Japan's smallest car brands, and Kogai's goal is to elevate it above its larger-volume players. Doing so is critical to the company's long-term viability as an export-dependent niche brand that requires higher margins to reinvest in costly alternative drivetrains and advanced safety technology.
Kogai's strategy aims to:
- Hold the line on incentives to boost transaction prices.
- Cultivate an upmarket aura around the brand with sporty handling, elegant interiors and sumptuous design.
- Improve the brand's low customer-retention rate to 60 percent.
Achieving all that will require getting Mazda's dealers on board with the image make-over.
"We want to distinguish ourselves by being a little elevated above the other Japanese or mainstream brands," Kogai said.