A few dealers have sued Mazda over its facility program, saying it will drive up operating costs. One, Kuhn Mazda of Tampa, in Florida, settled with the automaker, according to a court filing in April. Terms were not made public. Kuhn Automotive Group no longer sells Mazdas, a representative said in an email.
Brandon, who sits on the Mazda National Dealer Advisory Council's product committee and thinks Mazda is already more premium than some luxury brands, said the transition does come with challenges.
"I'm very impressed how there seems to be a really clear focus, so the long-term is really clear," Brandon told Automotive News. But, he added, "You can't drink the Kool-Aid too much because we still have to pay the bills today even if we're excited about where we're going."
Going upscale is not an easy proposition for an Asian automaker known for value. Mazda argues that as a small brand, it's better off finding a niche that commands better margins. It's new Signature trims, for example, are lavishly appointed with nappa leather, genuine wood trim, heated and ventilated seats, alloy wheels and turbocharged engines in most models. A CX-5 Signature compact crossover stickers at $37,935, including shipping. Mazda says the trim has proved popular.
A harder sell, perhaps, is the new-generation Mazda3, a compact car that is the brand's first ground-up product under its new design philosophy. Despite a price bump, it's a hit — among car reviewers. The buying public, however, is more interested in crossovers, and Mazda's new subcompact CX-30 won't hit showrooms for several more months.
Mazda's U.S. sales are down 16 percent in the first five months of the year — the sixth-largest decline of all brands — compared with 2.4 percent for the industry. Sales of every Mazda model fell by double-digit percentages. In 2018, Mazda sales rose 3.8 percent.