Mazda Will Try, Try Again With New Mazda6

Last Updated Sep 18, 2008 6:38 AM EDT

Mazda6Mazda is counting on the redesigned Mazda6 model to boost U.S. sales past 300,000 units annually starting next year.

Topping that 300,000 milestone is something Mazda used to accomplish routinely until the mid-1990s. The company now concedes that in the past, quality was spotty and some of its cars were poorly suited for the U.S. market. Not to mention, the Mazda6 goes head-to-head versus the segment-leading Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

Passing 300,000 next year would be about six years later than the company had hoped. The outgoing Mazda6 midsized sedan replaced the 626 model in late 2002. At the time, the company said it hoped to pass 300,000 total U.S. sales in 2003, but that didn't happen.

Mazda came close in 2007, with sales of 296,110, up 10.2 percent, a good performance in a slumping industry. That included 57,575 copies of the Mazda6, down 13 percent from 2006, according to AutoData. For 2009, Mazda is shooting for closer to 100,000 units for the Mazda6.

The old Mazda6 was designed primarily for Europe and Japan. It was too small for U.S. customers and underpowered for its size, said David Dildy, group manager, product planning and strategy for Mazda North American Operations.

Ford owns a controlling share of Mazda. The companies share a plant in Flat Rock, Mich. that produces both the Mazda6 and the Ford Mustang. The companies share several product platforms, including the Ford Escape, Mercury Mariner and Mazda Tribute SUV.

The new Mazda6 is bigger in nearly every dimension than the model it replaces, including rear-seat leg room. The new 2009 model also has bigger, more powerful engines, for both the base four-cylinder model and the upgraded V-6 model. The availability of a four-cylinder model is a selling point in today's U.S. market, because of high gas prices.

The company hopes the new model will attract a slightly older, more affluent crowd than the old model. The old model sold well to customers who were under 35 years old, and who paid an average of around $19,000 for the Mazda6, including discounts from incentives.

The new car is aimed at 30- to 55-year-olds, at average price target of around $24,000, with fewer discounts, Dildy said. "That's where the growth opportunity is," he said at a Sept. 17 press introduction for the new Mazda6, in Woodcliff Lake, N.J.