I Don't Think The Premium Thing Will Stick For Mazda But That's Fine

Mazda wants to rebrand, you may have heard, even if most Mazda buyers already think of themselves as the smartest people in the room for having gone with Mazda instead of buying a Corolla or Civic. Or they think “Miata,” and that is all they think. What they don’t think is “premium,” and I don’t think they ever will.

First, let’s see what Mazda’s doing in the year 2019, specifically in Los Angeles, where Automotive News spoke to Jeff Guyton, president of Mazda North America. Part of going premium is making a car that feels premium, and Mazda is mostly doing that; the new Mazda 3, to take one example, is very nice. And then there’s the new CX-30, a small-ish thing for whom the CX-5 is too big.

Guyton thinks the CX-30 will stand apart, especially on the upscale trims where Mazda has proved that it can do full-leather, premium interiors with minimalist beauty.

“We think with this product we have tremendous advantages in [noise, vibration and harshness], we’ve got a very nice package, and we have great performance.”

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But it is also making Mazda stores feel luxurious as opposed to, I dunno, shady, which many of them have been accused of being. Mazda knows this, and it’s trying to remove it.

The Retail Evolution store upgrade program is the brand’s effort to convert mainstream showrooms in the brand’s blue-and-white motif to the new black-and-silver model, designed to be more welcoming and project an almost luxury-dealer level of service. Mazda last month commemorated its 100th dealership that completed the program since it was announced in 2014: Jeff Haas Mazda in Houston.

While some Mazda retailers have pushed back on investing millions of dollars on brick-and-mortar when buyers are increasingly doing more vehicle shopping online, Guyton said the upgrade directly translates into better sales and service revenue, increased loyalty and greater visibility for the relatively small brand.

“Lots of manufacturers do projects like this and it’s about the style, it’s about the design. And it is that for us, too, but what is much more important is the level of hospitality that is happening in that store,” he said. “In order to take the brand forward, we needed to make a big change in both how the retail experience looked as well as how it behaved.”

I applaud Mazda for exercising some restraint with regard to this “Retail Evolution.” “Retail Revolution” was just sitting there, and someone at Mazda quite sensibly pulled back on the reins, possibly someone with some knowledge of the history of a company that’s been trying to go premium for almost its entire modern existence.

Do not believe me? See if you can guess what year this bit of marketing copy is from (and what car, if you want to go crazy, but that isn’t the point of this exercise.)

The newest Mazda is designed to blur the lines of conventional vehicle segmentation, offering traditional C-segment customers more in terms of design, craftsmanship and interior packaging, as well as a dynamic driving experience often associated with European-built vehicles.

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That would be the then-new Mazda 3, and the year 2003. I’m not even sure Mazda has ever truly believed the whole premium thing, or if it’s just a nice thing it tells other people about itself. But they don’t really have to. Mazda is good enough as it is. The people who buy Mazdas will certainly tell you as much.

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About the author

Erik Shilling

News Editor at Jalopnik. 2008 Honda Fit Sport.