Although the new car industry in NZ portrays a united front and sings from the same sheet on many issues, individually their long term success in tough times is greatly dependant on having a proven product range driven by good management. As Andrew Clearwater, the Managing Director of Mazda NZ stated at the recent launch of the all-new Mazda3 "smooth seas don't make skilled sailors and it will be those companies that are passionate about their brand, that are nimble, innovative and thrive on changing conditions that will come out ahead".
Hard to disagree with the MD, however there is always an element of luck and timing is often everything in the automotive industry and its here that Clearwater must go home at night and quietly thank the hierarchy in Japan for providing a model range most of his rivals must truly envy. No better proof is the fact that despite resisting the temptation to chase low margins, major fleet or rental business the brand cemented 4th place in the market in 2008. Year to date the upward trend has continued with overall market share increasing from 7.4% to 8.3%.
The release of the all-new Mazda3 can only enhance Mazda's chances of maintaining momentum.
New models are many years in the making and Mazda would never have dreamt the importance of offering so much buyer choice in today's market when the '09 car was on the initial drawing boards.
While the second generation Mazda3 is taller, longer and more rigid than the outgoing model, it is the choice of sedan or hatch, 2.0 or 2.5 litre engines, all-new manual or automatic transmissions and competitive retail pricing which will attract punters into the showrooms. Pricing starts at $30,895 for the base model GLX Hatch 6-speed manual and tops out at $44,285 for the SP25 Limited Hatch 5-speed automatic. In between there are sedan and hatches at varying prices depending on spec levels and engine size.
Regardless of price there is no compromise on safety.
The entire range is fitted with Dynamic Stability Control, Traction Control, driver and passenger front airbags, front side airbags and front and rear curtain airbags. New generation front seatbelts designed to help reduce shock to the occupant's chest are also standard across the range.
While power (108kW) and torque (182Nm) have remained the same as the previous model, the 2.0-litre engine has benefited from a new air induction system which prevents a performance drop-off at high temperatures. Other tweaks are the fine tuning of the throttle mapping and a longer pedal throw providing faster driver response, greater acceleration and improved fuel consumption. Claimed consumption figures for the manual and auto variants are 7.9 & 8.2L/100km respectively.
The 2.5-litre engine (122kW/227Nm) is essentially the same as that fitted to the Mazda6 modified to deliver a more sporting performance and responsiveness a SP25 buyer will expect. Claimed fuel consumption increases to 8.6L/100km for both manual and auto.
The interior features a dash-mounted Multi-Information Display.
Displayed information includes trip computer, audio system information, settings and maintenance reminders (on all models expect the base model GLX), with a handy selector switch on the steering wheel for ease of operation. Audio functions and cruise control settings are also controlled from the steering wheel (except GLX). Other cabin features include dual climate controlled air-conditioning (SP25), tilt and telescopic steering wheel, AUX jack for MP3 players, a 6-speaker CD player (2.0 models) and 10-speaker Bose audio system for SP25 AND SP25 Limited models.
Power steering is driven via a combination of electric and hydraulic components and provides the Mazda3 with a superb on-road handling experience, certainly a highlight of the press day drive.
Some may find the rear seating a little tight while the fold down of the seat back is very basic and does not allow for a flat floor area.
The Mazda3 is not an instant head turner but it does represent great value for money especially at the lower end of the price range and allows choices for those who like the performance of a 2.5 litre car and prefer the overall smaller body. The previous model sold more than 2 million vehicles in over 100 countries since its launch in 2003, there is nothing to suggest that trend will not continue.
Every Mazda3 comes with mazdacare genuine servicing for the first three years or 100,000kms (whichever comes first).
In today's competitive market we call that good management.