Mazda has been on a roll lately with some seriously good cars—probably its best lineup since twin-turbo rotary engines were still a thing. The scrappy automaker is going for a more premium “upmarket” push rather than compete directly with giants like Honda and Toyota. For the most part the strategy is working, but a big component is holding the brand back: the salespeople who are on the front lines with Mazda’s customers.
As a professional car shopper I’m in contact with hundreds of dealerships throughout the country over the course of a year. With certain brands, patterns will arise as to the level of cooperation and professionalism when it comes to dealership staff. The biggest disparities are found among mainstream (non-luxury) automakers.
While there are always exceptions, Kia and Nissan dealers tend to be worse to deal with than average, but Subaru stores are typically fairly solid in offering a good customer experience.
One of the more curious cases is Mazda, which seems to have a dealer network with an approach that seems allergic to actually landing customers. A few Mazda dealers clearly understand the brand’s strategy to appeal to a more affluent and upscale buyer, someone that might choose a certified pre-owned Audi or Volvo but instead ends up in a fully loaded CX-5 or Mazda 6. But far too many stores are surprisingly bad at this process.
A few examples: Awhile back I wrote up a pretty bonkers reason for a dealer not to send a written price quote that involved some kind of “privacy excuse.” That was mind-boggling and I figured it was just a new internet representative that didn’t really know what to do.
Well, a few weeks ago I was helping a client in the New York metro area get a new Mazda 3 and the same line popped up again. One of the dealers in the region said “We are not allowed to send written quotes via email for privacy reasons.” When I asked whose privacy was being violated, they didn’t have an answer. I also got several, “Your customer has to come in to the dealership to negotiate the price,” from a number of dealers on that case.
On a few occasions California Mazda dealers have modified the “privacy” excuse and tried to pin it back on a corporate policy about advertising. “We can’t send written price quotes because it violates Mazdas advertising policy,” they say.
This, of course, is bullshit, because other dealers in the region are more than willing to send complete breakdowns of their sale prices. I even got clarification from a Mazda corporate source that said no such policy exists that prevents dealers from disclosing complete pricing details in writing.
What is even more surprising is when dealers simply opt out of the whole online car shopping game. I was working with a CX-5 shopper in the Atlanta metro area and, of the five Mazda dealers in the region, only one responded within a reasonable time frame with a quote. One out of five is a terrible ratio for an automaker that wants to sell cars in 2019.
All the examples above pale in comparison to a Mazda dealer experience one of our readers recently sent in:
So we were looking at a new 2018 CX-9 that they had already marked down a bunch. “Lowest price in the nation,” as the dealer kept telling me. We were really looking for a used vehicle so that it would fit our budget and we told him this and that he would have to come down even more for us to be buyers.
After negotiating a little he called us over to the sales manager’s desk and showed us a page with how much money they already had in the car, trying to prove that the current price was as good as it was going to get. The sales manager tried to explain their cost breakdown and one of things he said really threw me.
Now, the best part:
He claimed that when they receive new cars they will only do 30 mph and that they are not completely finished and the dealer has to finish building them at the dealership. “Because you can’t ship a finished car here from Japan.”
Let’s wind that one back a bit. The sales manager of this Mazda dealership claimed they have to finish building the cars at the dealer, after they come here from Japan. Now, the speed limiter thing is not that uncommon as some cars have speed limiters on them during transport, but they get programmed once they arrive as part of pre-delivery prep.
But this dealer tried to imply that their store has their own assembly station where they complete the build process of these cars after they arrive from Japan. I’ve heard a lot of doozies in all the years I’ve been talking to dealers, but this one easily makes the top 10.
Mazda, I have heard, is aware that some of their dealers are not on the right page and provided Jalopnik with the following statement.
“Back in 2014 Mazda announced its Mazda’s Retail Evolution dealership design program, which provides dealers with an updated design direction and offers an enhanced experience to customers. These store’s new design is meant to embody the overall spirit and direction of the brand and its customers.
This Retail Evolution concept also extends to the sales process and Mazda is investing heavily in training at our dealerships to ensure that the customer experience is as good as our product. While we can’t mandate how a dealership interacts in the negotiation of price, we do provide best practices that support a focused customer approach.”
In regards to the dumbass sales manager who claimed his story needed to finish the assembly process Mazda also said:
“Vehicles come finished from Japan ready to go.”
So that’s good.
While it is true that an automaker cannot dictate the behavior of its dealer network, it can create programs that incentivize a positive customer customer experience. With car sales slowing down and market competition being stronger than ever, Mazda is smart to appeal to appeal to a different kind of customer than the mass-market brands, but as we know product isn’t enough to land sales and all it takes is one bad experience for a potential customer to go elsewhere.