The seven best-selling cars in Canada are all about the same size and shape and wear remarkably similar sticker prices – from about $15,000 to $30,000 or so. They are compacts and Canadians snap them up like half-priced buns at the day-old bakery.
Canadians buy nearly three times more compacts than intermediates and almost four times more compacts than subcompacts. Cars like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra and Mazda3 out-sell everything else and by a wide margin.
The competition is brutal. The one-upsmanship unrelenting. Consumers are unforgiving and demanding and the pressure to offer more for less is staggering. If you're shopping for a small car in Canada, you typically expect pristine quality, modern technology, zippy performance, budget-saving fuel economy and a little style thrown in for good measure. These buyers generally want it all and they'd like the whole package available with a $200 monthly lease payment, please.
Into this happy place Mazda is launching a brand new Mazda3, the 2014 version. Mazda Canada president Kory Koreeda thinks Mazda has a chance of pushing the 3 to new heights, perhaps even challenge for the No. 1 spot on the list of Canada's best-selling cars.
"Yes, I think we have the potential," he says. Even if Mazda fails to topple the Honda Civic from atop the list – where it has reigned for 15 straight years – Koreeda argues that the Mazda3 "will once again be the benchmark for the compact car segment in terms of design, performance and efficiency."
Oh, really. Figures from DesRosiers Automotive Consultants show the Mazda3 is the fourth best-selling car in Canada to the end of August. The Civic is No.1, however, with sales of 41,836. The Hyundai Elantra comes next at 39,290, and then there's a big dropoff to where a pack of five cars are bunched between about 19,000 and 29,000. The Toyota Corolla at No. 3 and the Mazda3 are part of that pack and it's not where Koreeda and his team want to be.
From 2005 through 2011, the Mazda3 was one of Canada's three best-selling cars. Mazda Canada sold more than 50,000 in 2005, in fact. Being No. 4 is – well, in the Olympics they only give medals for the top three. If you want to be completely forgotten in Olympic history, finish fourth in the 100 metres. You're not a nobody, but you are an unknown body.
Mazda, on the other hand, is in the early stages of a transformation. The idea is to position the Mazda brand as an alternative to premium – but at mainstream pricing.
"We're not a huge manufacturer like Honda or Toyota, so we need a unique brand positioning in order to set us apart," says Koreeda.
I like the imagery Koreeda's United Kingdom colleagues are using to illustrate the point. As just-auto.com reports, Mazda plans to use the image of Olympic high jumper Dick Fosbury and his famous backward "flop" in the 1968 Olympics to launch the new 3 in the U.K.
"It's one of many examples of people who have challenged convention that we will use and is an easy way to show what Mazda is doing," U.K. managing director Jeremy Thomson told the industry publication. "You don't have to be a sports fan to know about Dick Fosbury."
And you don't need to be a gearhead to understand what Thomson is suggesting when he tells just-auto.com that the new 3 is "only three centimetres shorter than a BMW 3-Series so it's a tremendous alternative to premium models with a brand that is not mainstream." Mazdas, then, are BMWs at Toyota and Honda prices. At least that's the idea. That's what I'd call a bold business plan and it needs to be backed by a daring product plan, one delivered without glitches.
At the very least, Mazda is profitable and ready to grow. Sales this year are expected to be 1.3 million. The target by 2016 is for Mazda to hit sales of 1.7 million. Last year, Mazda turned a profit for the first time in years and this year should be even better. A new factory in Mexico is coming on line next year, which will make Mazda more competitive in North America, too. After years of downsizing and right-sizing, of scratching about how to come up with a viable strategy to keep Mazda alive and growing, the universe and all its planets seem to be aligning in Mazda's favour.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed. The other six compact cars on the Top 10 list are all good. No dogs or slouches amongst them.
Top-selling cars for 2013
(year to end of Aug.)
% gain/loss (yr-over-yr)
Source: DesRosiers Automotive Consultants