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Plcs side-stepped in Mazda's expansion

Mazda’s sales expectations in the UK have mushroomed after two strong years since taking distribution in-house. The company, whose cars were previously imported by MCL, now expects to hit 60,000 units within two to three years – way ahead of the original five-year challenge set in 2001 to achieve 40,000 sales.

This year, sales are scheduled to pass 48,000 units (year to April, up 39% to 17,476) and that has created opportunities for more dealers to join the network.

Currently 155 strong, Mazda has identified another 20-30 open points in Britain. That will take it into Honda/Audi territory, an apt comparison, suggests UK managing director Phil Waring, who adds: “We are now on the middle ground – the last automotive brand to make these kinds of advances was Audi, and it kept going.”

Supply could be the main sticking point: at the moment the company is pressing Japan for more Mazda6, 3 and RX-8 stock. But with the additional of a new lower medium B-sector car (the Mazda2 is seen as upper medium), due by 2007, and the Premacy replacement due next summer, Mazda believes 70,000 sales are credible.

New retailers, in addition to existing franchisees looking to relocate or upgrade, will need to meet new standards focused on providing consistent branding across the network. This will include new look showroom interiors, including a plinth to display the key model each month, point of sale material, colour co-ordinated furniture and merchandising.

“We need to harness the power of the dealer network on delivering a consistent message,” says Waring. “The looks and feel needs to be Mazda without losing the individuality of the dealer.”

But, he adds: “We will not demand them to make the changes – many of these dealers have joined us because they were fed up making investment in other franchises. It’s a case of as and when.”

Mazda continues to rule out expanding with plcs, whose motives it says are dictated by the City shareholders – Waring says it will make a “curtain call” if one of its franchises falls into the hands of a plc during an acquisition. Larger regionals and smaller independents make up the bulk of the network and it’s these who will be targeted for expansion.

“We want dealers where the people who own the business are the people involved on a day-to-day basis,” says Waring.

“We will wrap the regionals with local, owner-driver companies whose livelihoods depend on making the franchise a success – they have the passion that possibly the plcs don’t have.”

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