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Mazda to make a move upmarket, but staying off of Lexus’s turf

Shortly after Toyota launched the Lexus brand and started taking sales away from the big German names in luxury, Mazda very nearly attempted the same thing. Their luxury brand, Amati, was killed off before it ever saw the light of day and was a casualty of bigger financial problems at Mazda at the time. Instead, Mazda had to content itself with the mainstream market, but the company is now in very real danger of becoming nothing more than a niche brand, with just 228,000 units sold in the US as of the end of last month.

With that not so stellar figure firmly in mind, Mazda is now setting a goal of 400,000 units in the US by 2016, and they have several different plans for achieving this goal. One is to play up its motorsport image, which shouldn’t be too hard to do for the company which builds the MX-5 and is the only Japanese company to have ever won the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Mazda also has a new 2.2-liter Skyactiv clean diesel engine, which it hopes will give a boost to the company’s green image and challenge VW as the king of mainstream clean diesel in the US. But most important of all will be a move to give the brand more luxury.

Amati will not be revived, and Mazda has even said that they do not plan on going up against the likes of Lexus, Acura and Infiniti. But the brand will be making a move upmarket while hanging on to just the Mazda brand. In a conversation with Automotive News, Mazda CEO Takashi Yamanouchi said that the internal byword for the luxury effort is “Japan premium”, although he also pointed out that the marketing department would not be using this term. Probably a good idea. There is certainly a perception that, although Mazda builds its cars well, the interiors especially feel cheap. A move upmarket could certainly broaden the brand’s appeal at a time when other inexpensive Japanese brands are either pulling out of North America or teetering on the brink. This could even be the only way for Mazda to survive.