I Hope Mazda Doesn't Lose Its Nerve

Photo: Erik Shilling

The fourth-generation Mazda 3 launched this year, gunning, in its top trims, for cars like the Audi A3 and the Mercedes A-Class. It’s very good! Sales have been not so good.

The 2019 Mazda 3 starts at $21,000, on the high end for a small sedan, or $24,000 for the cheapest trim that comes with all-wheel-drive, which you should get. That puts it firmly in the middle of the market for small cars, with the Toyota Corolla, for example, starting at $19,600, and the A3 at $33,300.

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The middle, so far, hasn’t been a good place to be. Mazda sold 4,825 Mazda 3s in August, according to its latest sales numbers, or 13.9 percent fewer Mazda 3s than it did in August 2018. Year-to-date sales are down 20.7 percent compared to the same time period last year.

That reflects broader trends in the market for small cars in the U.S., but it’s also how the Mazda 3 specifically has been trending in recent years. Over at The Truth About Cars, Timothy Cain, who founded the car sales tracking site goodcarbadcar.net, went through some of the numbers.

Between its 2012 peak (incidentally, the last time Mazda cleared out an outgoing generation of the 3) and the doldrums of 2019, U.S. sales of Mazda’s compact have fallen 54 percent. There’s been a massive marketplace shift during that seven-year span, but it’s a shift with which some competitors have managed to cope. Honda Civic sales, for example, are 10 percent stronger now than they were when the 3 was peaking in 2012; Toyota Corolla sales are up 7 percent during the same time span.

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In 2014, the 3 was still Mazda’s best seller, accounting for slightly more than one-third of the brand’s sales. Now the 3 produces less than one-fifth of Mazda’s U.S. volume.

Mazda pinned a lot of its hopes on the fourth-generation Mazda 3, hopes that so far aren’t panning out. And perhaps buyers are just waiting for Skyactiv-X, and the better fuel economy it offers, which is thought to come to the States next year after its introduction in Europe.

Even so, a lot of companies might look at these numbers and the prevailing winds (hello, Ford) and decide, well, maybe this whole sedan thing isn’t for us in the U.S. If Americans want a Mazda, they can have a CX-5.

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But we’ve also seen this movie before, about 11 years ago now, when SUVs and trucks were the hottest thing in America until very swiftly they weren’t. And I’m pretty certain the time will come again pretty soon when everyone will want a small car that was easy on gas. The Mazda 3 with Skyactiv-X will hopefully still be here waiting when it does.

(h/t The Truth About Cars)

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About the author

Erik Shilling

News Editor at Jalopnik. 2008 Honda Fit Sport.