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Mazda considers cutting third of network

One-third of Mazda's 115 UK dealers are under threat in a "root and branch" review of the brand's franchise strategy.

Mazda Motors UK managing director James Muir, transferred from previous troubleshooting roles at Ford, said: "The bottom third of our dealership organisation leaves a lot to be desired. They will suffer from some form of rationalisation."

Mr Muir would not give a detailed timetable for the changes, but he wants "up to 60 partners covering 100 larger territories with inherently superior economies of scale".

Mazda's new management intends to raise UK market share to 2% within four years, compared to the present 0.55%. Next year it is targeting a 1% market share on the back of 27,000 vehicle sales.

Mr Muir described 2001 as a "rock bottom" year caused by the problem of replacing importer MCL with a manufacturer-owned business.

"On August 1 we inherited the entire dealer body from MCL. Since then I have fired three dealers," he said. "We have one third who are good, one third who are average and need a lot of help, and one third who leave a lot to be desired."

Mazda is spending £22m on marketing in the UK next year. This includes £3.2m on TV and cinema ads during the first three months, plus £3m devoted to the new upper-medium 6 range, which will be launched in June.

Mazda plans to exploit the "the icon effect" of the new rotary-engined RX8 sports car, said Mr Muir, targeting 6,000 sales in 2003.

He hopes to generate sales by pricing the RX8 "at around or under 25,000", against established opposition including Porsche Boxster, Audi TT and Toyota Celica.

The Mazda 6 will include a 4x4 Sportwagon estate car variant, due next September priced above £23,000, with a 2.3-litre, 163bhp petrol engine and Tiptronic semi-automatic transmission.

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