Compared to industry juggernauts like Honda and Toyota, Mazda is tiny. Offsetting its size disparity, this scrappy automotive upstart from Hiroshima, Japan cultivates a more upscale image than its major domestic rivals.
But is it a luxury brand? Masahiro Moro, now the chairman and CEO of Mazda North American Operations, explained their vehicles do tend to attract customers that are more affluent than the industry average, a strong indicator of the brand’s premium positioning, and an advantage other automakers would love to have.
“There are a number of different premiums, right? The German premiums, Japanese premiums, American premiums, super-premiums, there are many different territories,” explained Moro. “But we try to keep our unique position.” He wants Mazda “to always be unique to the mainstream,” which is something they seem to have achieved.
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“Yeah, I think the customers right now are finding Mazda as a very good, smart alternative to other premium brand(s),” said Moro. Vehicles equipped with the company’s high-end Signature trim level feature luxury-car styling, interior materials, craftsmanship and amenities.
For Signature-equipped models, Moro noted, “Our customers’ average profile in terms of, for example, household income is more than $130,000, which is very high.” That certainly sounds like luxury, but with Mazda’s more mainstream models he noted that figure is around $80,000 or $90,000, certainly a good place to be and one that’s in the upper-middle range of premium brands.
Aside from its well-trimmed interiors and thoughtful features, a couple other major things separate Mazda vehicles from the crowd. “I think design and driving dynamics are absolutely guaranteed,” said Moro. “Those two characteristics… absolutely define Mazda as Mazda.”
Aside from exhaustive chassis development work and tuning, helping deliver that exceptional on-road performance are special engines. Generally, Mazda’s powerplants are strong, smooth running and economical to operate. Exactly what customers demand in high-end vehicles.
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“I think probably our approach to, for example, internal combustion engine design, everything is pretty unique compared to mainstream,” said Moro. Their 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder unit that’s offered in the Mazda6 sedan and CX-9 crossover is specially tuned to deliver tons of low-speed torque, up to 310 pound-feet, which makes everyday driving a breeze. The firm’s naturally aspirated engines are likewise a joy to operate, free-revving and smooth.
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