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Market trends: Retuned with Europeans in mind

Mazda has just made two new product announcements in the SUV arena. It is launching its petrol-only CX-7 large SUV in the UK, but it will not be launching its XXL-sized 3.5-litre V6 CX-9 SUV.

At first sight, this policy seem to be half-right – the CX-9 would be a complete non-starter in the UK, but how can Mazda expect to sell a 2.3 petrol-only CX-7, complete with Band G road tax? In fact, the CX-7 throws an interesting light on the whole question of selling cars here that were not really designed for the European market in the first place.

Mazda has heavily retuned the CX-7 for European roads and gone to the trouble of designing a manual gearbox just for us, but its sales target of up to 1,500 seems ambitious.

If one looks at total sales of petrol-engined SUVs over 2.0-litres, Mazda plans to become Britain’s second-best selling SUV. Only the Porsche Cayenne sells more (around 2,000 a year), and that does have certain branding advantages. Indeed, once the Cayenne goes hybrid in 2009, the CX-7 would theoretically become the best-selling petrol model of its segment.

As a cautionary tale, one only has to look at the Subaru Tribeca. In the first half of 2007, less than 200 Tribecas were registered, despite a big-budget campaign.

Mazda’s idea is to create a fashion item in the CX-7 – a model that will be hot for a year or so and then gradually fade away along with the rest of the segment. It is certainly a more thoughtful approach than the traditional way of trying to shift models designed originally with the USA and Japan in mind.

Toyota in the UK spent years trying to persuade their Japanese masters that the Camry was a lost cause. While the model made no sense here, the Japanese perceived the model as one of the world’s best-selling saloons and did not see why the UK could not try harder.

We know of another importer that told its dealers that a new model was unsaleable in the UK – but the factory insisted on marketing it here. At the dealer launch, the importer promised to put enough money on the bonnet of every car to make it worth the dealers’ while to sell three or four each.

The fact is that, despite the ultra-competitive nature of the car market, models still get launched in the UK that cannot realistically be expected to give a decent return (Cadillac BLS, anybody?). Factories churn out models that then have to be found homes – at any price.

Shouting at the dealers is no substitute for having a strategy before you start.

Petrol SUV sales over 2000 cc

Sales of SUVs with engines above 2.0-litres are in decline as carmakers focus on diesel engines to meet buyer demand.

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