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Carmaker of the year

Mazda Motors UK has come through a tough few years following the decision by the Japanese-owned factory to take UK distribution in-house. That led to a prolonged and messy handover from former importer MCL, which saw sales plunge from a 1997 high of 32,000 units to just 14,259 in 2001.

Dealers were demotivated, product was in short supply and the future of the brand was resting on just one model – the MX-5. From that low, Mazda is now hitting the highs: last year sales leapt 36% to a record 37,854. “We have re-engaged dealers, the media and our customers,” says Mazda Motors UK managing director Phil Waring, who took over from James Muir last summer. “We hung our hat on the MX-5 – it's brand recall outweighed the rest of Mazda – so our new products like the Mazda 6 and RX-8 are emulating those brand values.”

Mazda spent much of 2003 establishing the dealer infrastructure. It inherited 105 dealers from the MCL network, which has now grown to 140 – the plan is to have 156 by the end of this year. Their loyalty has been rewarded with a mammoth £50m marketing budget over the past two years, which has boosting unprompted recall of the Mazda brand by a third to 46%. The company has also looked at ways to help the network increase sales by using brand mapping techniques. It approached Polk to assess each dealer's area of influence, mapping sales patterns per model. “This means we can predict sales and dealers can tailor their marketing spend accordingly,” says Waring.

“This business is not difficult, but a lot of people make it difficult. Dealers, brand and products – that's 90% of the way to success.”

Dealers are now averaging 2% return on sales, up 0.5% on 2001, and their turnover has doubled. “They can now plan for the next three years, in terms of capacity and staffing. We gave them indicative volumes over this period and we are already two years ahead of our original business plan,” adds Waring.

Mazda was forecasting 40,000 sales in 2005; now it's confident of reaching 50,000 – adding a further 10,000 units by 2007. “We need the network to think about what this means for them,” says Waring. “Our responsibility is to build the brand and provide great products – their responsibility is to provide the facilities, service and brand. And because we have consistently achieved our targets, dealers can believe we will do what we say we will.”

Mazda 6 has taken over from the MX-5 as the mainstay of the range, selling 14,000 units last year. Waring is confident the MX-5 and RX-8 will combine for 13,000 sales this year, with the Mazda 3 adding a further 8,500. He stresses the need for Mazda to have a good spread of models, and defends the maligned MPV and Tribute. “This company got in trouble when it was a one-car brand,” he says. “It's vital to have a spread of vehicles to meet different needs – an RX-8 driver might consider the MPV for the family, for example.”

Waring, a former retailer who worked at Quicks, appreciates the need for close partnership with the dealer network. “We need to understand what they do; how they make money and then work out how we can help them make more money,” he says. “The fulcrum of the business is that both manufacturers and dealers have to profit or the process breaks down.”

Success has been built on a simple précis: “Dealers need us to build the cars; we need dealers to sell them.”
Two years after taking over the UK importer-ship, Mazda has grown sales by 36% to nearly 38,000 cars and is delivering outstanding value for its dealer network with excellent models like the 6 and the RX-8.

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