Mazda's Never-Ending Push for Premium

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Photo Credit: Erik Shilling
Photo Credit: Erik Shilling

Mazda is attempting a transformation, Ford has dual-clutch issues, and Renault and Nissan are Renaulting. All of this and more in The Morning Shift for Monday, July 1, 2019.

1st Gear: Can Mazda Go Luxe?

Mazda’s new Mazda 3 is a good car. Its “holy grail” engine is also slowly coming into the picture. Both are part of Mazda’s strategy to go premium, morphing from a budget automaker into a high-dollar one. Which makes some sense considering that the value sedan market doesn’t really exist anymore, for new cars at least. And it aligns with what other Asian automakers are doing, like with Hyundai and Genesis.


Those with long memories might remember Mazda seemingly eternally going premium. It was going premium earlier this year. And in 2017. And in 2016. And in 2008. And even when it took a stab at making a Lexus of its own, Amati, in the early ‘90s.

One more direct problem, though, are its dealerships, which are kind of trash. Mazda has to fix it if they truly want to join the likes of BMW, Mercedes, and Volvo, et al, or at least attempt to compete. There’s also the issue of sales, which haven’t been great.


Via Automotive News:

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.



Mazda argues that as a small brand, it’s better off finding a niche that commands better margins. Its 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.


Car reviewers, of course, are the most important people in the world. Everyone waits for the car reviewers to review the cars before they buy the cars. This is fact. It follows that the Mazda 3 will be a smash hit.

2nd Gear: Ford Not Even Close to Being Done With Its Dual-Clutch Issue

Dual-clutch transmissions are wonderful. They’re complicated, they can shift with the grace of a distracted teen, and it’s hard to find any major advantage for them versus the all-conquering ZF eight-speed. But they do shift super fast, when you’re trying to beat the lap record on the track. You were all on the track last weekend in your Focuses and Fiestas, right?


The dual-clutch on those two cars have been problematic for years. And now Auto News says former Ford CEO Mark Fields has been ordered to testify in ongoing litigation surrounding them.

Although engineers helped solve some early glitches with software updates and redesigned parts, Ford issued more than 20 technical service bulletins related to the transmissions, which were code-named DPS6. In 2014, Ford extended the transmissions’ warranty by two years and 40,000 miles.

Litigation over the transmissions remains unresolved. Ford reached a settlement in 2017 for a class-action lawsuit covering 1.9 million owners, but the settlement is being challenged in a federal court in California on the grounds that not enough owners would be compensated. A separate mass-tort case involving thousands of customers is pending in Michigan.

Former Ford CEO Mark Fields has been ordered to testify by July 31 in a series of cases involving customers who opted out of the class-action suit. A Florida judge last month denied Fields’ motion to avoid testifying.

Ford also has been forced to pay up around the world; last year it lost a class-action lawsuit in Thailand and separately was fined $10 million by a court in Australia.


Dual-clutch is great, and many a car idiot has argued that, in fact, they should be the only transmission. I, for one, support more and more clutches, as many as possible.

3rd Gear: Jaguar Will Build an All-Electric XJ in England

This is big news for a country that has completely owned itself with Brexit.

This long-held rumor made it into the pages of The Sunday Times recently:

Britain’s biggest automotive manufacturer is this week expected to reveal that it will build an all-electric version of its XJ luxury saloon at its Castle Bromwich factory in Birmingham. It will be the first of three electric cars to be built from a new common skeleton, offering a reprieve to the 2,500 workers at the former Spitfire aircraft plant, who recently agreed to work a four-day week.

The factory will shut for six weeks so that the production line at Castle Bromwich can be retooled, with work due to begin within days. The new XJ will be capable of travelling almost 300 miles on a single charge and is expected to arrive on forecourts next year.

It will be followed by a large electric sports utility vehicle (SUV), with a third electric model also in the works.

Jaguar’s decision comes at a pivotal time for the industry, which has been hit hard by Brexit uncertainty, the collapsing Chinese market and plunging sales of diesel cars. Bosses have warned that a no-deal Brexit would crush its competitiveness by piling on 10% tariffs and causing gridlock for supply chains that rely on just-in-time delivery.


The internal combustion engine version of the XJ is dead, and the electric version is apparently coming. I’m most interested on how it will look.

4th Gear: Renault’s Boss Faced Some Questions

Jean-Dominique Senard, the chairman of Renault, was in Japan recently. He had to face some Nissan shareholders there. Some awkwardness ensued.


Per Automotive News:

One shareholder said he feared a foreign takeover of Nissan and took a dig at Senard’s nationality, saying “French people” often hide true intentions behind a smiling facade. “They are really sly,” the shareholder said.

“Can you behave as a Nissan director and not just as the chairman of Renault?” he asked Senard. “You would like to take advantage of the merger for Renault. That’s obvious.”

Senard’s rebuttal was emotional. He pleaded with the audience to believe that he has the automaker’s best interests at heart.

“I beg you to believe me on that,” Senard said. “There was obviously no aggressive intention.

“The last thing that came in my mind was to be aggressive toward a company of which I am a director. I beg you to believe me on that,” he said. “There are no bad intentions at all.”


I’m guessing Renault and Nissan will continue to amble on into the future together, by necessity.

5th Gear: Signs of Life at Mitsubishi?

They have hired a guy who worked on the Audi TT and Seat Leon. Sorry, I lied a in this subhead, this honestly isn’t really important and will probably have no effect on anything at all going forward.


Via CarScoops:

Diez is a graduate of the Royal College of Art in London and was a longtime Volkswagen Group employee, having spent 18 years at the German company. According to his LinkedIn profile, he was a senior exterior designer at Audi from 2001 to 2010, head of exterior design at Seat from 2011 to 2014, and head of Audi Concept Design Munich, among other assignments within the group. During his career, he was responsible for designing models including the Seat Leon and Ibe Concept and the Audi A7 Sportback and TT.

“I am pleased to announce that Jorge Diez is joining our design team and will lead it in Europe,” said Tsunehiro Kunimoto, corporate vice president of MMC’s Design Division. “He combines both strategic thinking and creative leadership. I look forward to him enhancing the creativity and quality of future Mitsubishi design as we expand our European studio.”


Reverse: RIP Thunderbird


Neutral: Is Mazda Luxury to You?

Will it ever be? The Mazdas are good. Buy the Mazdas. As a business proposition though...