FLAGGING THE CHANGES: Mazda is zoom-zooming back into South Africa, starting with excellent prices for the Mazda6 (left), Mazda CX-5 (centre), Mazda 3. Image: Les Stephenson
Mazda is back in South Africa and planning vengeance four years after it split with Ford in this country and not only with the famous ‘Zoom Zoom’ slogan but with three initial models at prices that are probably going to give their market rivals serious automotive indigestion.
The three voorlopers – though the 6 has been here but on the back burner and waiting for reinforcements - are the Mazda3, Mazda6 and the SUV-styled CX-5, each with a variety of engines and models and each with a halo model at the pinnacle of each range – one of them bringing back the well-remembered Astina badge.
MORE MODELS TO COME
Wheels24 was at the multi-launch presentation in Gauteng – specifically, Mazda SA’s brand-new offices/warehousing in the N1 Business Park, Midrand – where new managing director David Hughes gave an in-depth presentation of how Mazda plans to take on a market that has changed hugely since its fading in SA four years ago from 18 000 sales a year in 2008 to 6600 in 2013.
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And before you think to ask, there are more models to come through 2015, among them the world’s most popular sports car, the MX-5. The current B-Series bakkies will continue to be assembled in South Africa, though aiming for leisure buyers rather than the Bob the Builder market.
I’m writing this on the N1 between Pretoria and Krugersdorp in the front passenger seat of a CX-5 and if this my first exposure to the new Mazda product can be taken as a guide then Ford, VW, Audi and other ‘family’ brands might have to come up with some extra selling effort.
The ride is almost silent – except for today’s fierce crosswind – and the engine inaudible. It’s an auto: the gear changes are not detectable. The seats: leather. The cabin lining: mostly soft-touch plastic. Controls and accessories: Up there with the best.
Rear legroom is pretty good, the boot huge and with a novelty: the luggage cover attaches to the tail door and lifts with it; no unhooking and sliding.
All units are produced in Japan and Hughes and his crew are under the direct protection of Mazda HQ on the Home Islands. Replacement parts going back 10 years (for those older models still alive and kicking in SA) are being aggregated and stored in a new warehouse adjacent to the Midrand offices to supply a total of 50 dealers spread right across the nation.
Some will share premises with former partner Ford, others will be free-standing.
The whole Midrand complex took only 12 weeks to build – perhaps an indication of the fervour and determination with which Mazda intends to recapture its share of the SA market. Hughes aims to be back at the 18 000-units-a-year level by 2017, acknowledging that he sees the bulk of its customers coming from the new middle-class.
He also fought hard to keep prices realistic, with the help of the Home Office given that all models will be full imports. He also emphasised that Mazda would no longer be “cheap and cheerful”: targeted are BMW, Audi, Hyundai, Kia and VW, a market segment already clearly penetrated in Australia, Hughes' previous home.
He has, then, two main weapons in his gunslinger holsters: prices (see below) and a determination to change the way South Africans feel about the Mazda brand.
Mazda3 – R232 900 to R326 300 for the range-topping (it’s-got-everything) Astina. Remember that sleek little coupe-styled four-seater? It’s coming back!)
Mazda6 – R342 000 to R430 500 for the range-topping Atenza. The 6 is chasing Audi and Honda’s Accord.
Mazda CX-5 – R316 600 to R456 100 for the range-topping 4x4 Akera that will take on Ford’s Kuga and VW’s Tiguan.
The closest any of the competitors comes to the matching model in the Mazda range is one of the Audis (R1000). The differences to the sales benefit of Mazda otherwise are in the thousands and tens of thousands of rands.