Superbrands case studies: Mazda

Originally published in 'Consumer Superbrands Volume VI', July 2004. The book reviews the UK's strongest consumer brands as judged by an independent judging panel.

Case study provided by Superbrands.


Mazda was one of the fastest growing brands in Europe during 2003, with total sales up 25.8% over 2002. This was achieved against a backdrop during which the European automotive industry weakened. Sales were spearheaded by Mazda6, with over 100,000 vehicles sold.

Mazda B-segment sales were up 83% in 2003, thanks to the market launch of the Mazda2 in February. Mazda MPV sales were up 18.6%, representing its best year ever, and nearly 19,000 Mazda MX-5 roadsters were sold, the fourth best year for sales in the car's 14-year history.

Furthermore, four European markets set all-time records for year-on-year volume growth in 2003. A total of 38,863 Mazda vehicles were sold in the UK in 2003. This represented a 20% increase on the previous best year - 1997 - making 2003 undoubtedly Mazda UK's best year ever.


Mazda's rejuvenated range of cars has been recognised with a raft of awards from around the world. The Mazda6 in particular, has collected awards as wide ranging as a Japan Car Design Award; a place in the American Car and Driver magazine's annual Best 10 Awards; it also won Family Car of the Year award in Sweden; Scotland's New Car of the Year Award; Car of the Year in Northern Ireland; What Car? magazine's Best Estate car award, twice running; it took the Best Car award in a reader poll for Auto Express Magazine and it was runner up in the prestigious European Car of the Year award for 2003. Altogether, the Mazda6 is the most successful new car in Mazda's 84-year history.

Since then, Mazda has also won the What Car? Comfort Test in two successive years with the Mazda2; the Mazda MX-5 won Autocar magazine's Best Handling Car 2003, beating a Lamborghini, Porsche and Lotus; the Mazda RX-8 has won a handful of prizes, including the What Car? magazine's Best CoupÈ award, and the International Engine of the Year award for its RENESIS rotary engine; and the Mazda3 followed in the footsteps of the Mazda6 by being voted runner up in the European Car of the Year award 2004, the highest placed Japanese car.


In 1920, Mr Jujiro Matsuda (born on August 6th 1875) began producing corks in Hiroshima, Japan. Originally called Toyo Cork Kogyo Ltd, the company soon grew out of cork production and into heavy industry, manufacturing machine tools and, by the early 1930s, three-wheeled trucks for export to China.

In 1934, Toyo Kogyo changed its name to Mazda, after the company founder (the 'u' is silent in Matsuda's name) and after a Zoroastrian god called Ahura-Mazda, who granted wisdom and united man and nature.

Mazda's growth was cut short when the world's first atom bomb was dropped on its home town in 1945, but by the late 1950s the company was back on its feet and ready to launch its first car - the tiny Mazda R360 Coupe introduced in 1960.

This was a time of tremendous ambition and drive for Mazda. The following year, in 1961, Mazda entered into technical co-operation with Dr Felix Wankel and the German manufacturer NSU, to develop Wankel's radical rotary engine. Using one or more triangular rotors inside an oval casing, the rotary engine spins continuously (unlike the reciprocating piston engine) making it smooth and high revving, as well as compact and powerful. Mazda unveiled its first rotary-engined car soon after - the Cosmo Sport 110S sports car, launched at the 1963 Tokyo Motor Show, it was the world's first twin rotor production car.

By the late 1960s, with the striking Cosmo and a range of family cars, Mazda grew quickly, with full-scale exports to the European market, and by 1970 to the US market too. Mazda rode the wave of imports that flowed into the US, offering American styling combined with Japanese ingenuity, value for money and fuel economy.

In 1978 Mazda launched the truly seminal rotary-engined Mazda RX-7. This sharp-looking sports coupe was a huge hit around the world, firmly establishing Mazda as a sporty and exciting marque.

It was superseded a decade later with the launch of the Mazda MX-5, a pure two-seater roadster that reintroduced a whole generation to classic sports car driving. Although the basic design has hardly changed in fifteen years, the Mazda MX-5 still wins awards and holds the coveted position of being the world's best selling roadster.

Mazda hadn't forgotten the Rotary engine however. With the demise of NSU, Mazda remained the only manufacturer in the world to develop the engine, proving all its advantages of lightweight and high performance with a win in the 1991 Le Mans 24-Hour Endurance Race.

The Mazda 787B wasn't just the first victory for a rotary engine - it was the first win for a Japanese manufacturer.

In the late 1970s, Ford had acquired a 25% stake in Mazda and by the late 1990s Ford owned a 33.4% stake in Mazda. In 1999 two senior Ford men took the helm of Mazda and brought new clarity to the brand and the range. Phil Martens and Martin Leach, who together ran product strategy and development, nurtured the idea of Mazda's having the 'soul of a sports car' and set about developing a range of cars that were stylish and sporty. The result was two cars that would begin the transformation of modern Mazda - the hugely successful and widely acclaimed Mazda6, and the RX-Evolv concept car, which later became the impressive rotary-powered Mazda RX-8.


Mazda's broad range allows it to compete in all the major sectors of the worldwide automotive market. Its line-up includes hatches, saloons, estates, a sports car, a sports coupe, an MPV, a pick-up and a 4x4; and the range includes petrol, diesel and rotary engines.

Mazda's recent product-led re-birth was kicked off in May 2002 with the launch of the Mazda6, a family car available as a four-door saloon, five-door hatchback or estate. Aggressive styling, high levels of equipment and tremendous driver enjoyment allowed the Mazda6 to be a runaway success in the fiercely competitive mid-size D segment. The Mazda6 is available with 1.8, 2.0-litre and 2.3-litre petrol engines, and two 2.0-litre turbo diesels.

After the Mazda6 came the compact Mazda2 and the C-segment Mazda3, both of which followed the Mazda6 in offering huge driver appeal, high equipment levels and excellent value for money. Between them the Mazda2 and Mazda3 also introduced new MZR 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrol engines and a new Activematic transmission, a selectable automatic gearbox.

The flagship Mazda RX-8, with its rotary engine and its extraordinary 'Freestyle' doors (rear-hinging back doors that create a wide pillarless aperture for direct access into the back seats) has crowned a remarkable 24 months for Mazda. The Mazda RX-8 has helped to change the public's perception of what the Mazda brand stands for, and again, offering segment-busting looks, performance and value for money, it has already been a huge success, generating interest in Mazda's showrooms around the world.

Throughout all of this, the car that Mazda placed at the heart of its brand, the MX-5 roadster, has gone from strength to strength. Apart from regular updates in its equipment levels and specification, the Mazda MX-5 remains fundamentally the same car that was launched back in 1989; and yet it still wins group tests and awards against all newcomers, and it remains one of the most sought after and aspirational sports cars on the market.

Recent developments

Mazda has launched four all-new models in the last two years while other cars in the range, like the MPV people carrier, have been facelifted and revamped. Many of these launches have also included the introduction of new clean and powerful MZR petrol and diesel engines, and the RENESIS engine in the Mazda RX-8, a highly developed reincarnation of Mazda's unique rotary engine, which won the International Engine of the Year Award.

This renewed range of cars has gone hand in hand with a total re-organisation of Mazda in the UK. From August 2001, Mazda took direct control of UK distribution and established a new company, Mazda Motors UK Ltd, which immediately set about re-organising the dealer network, reviving sales and boosting customer awareness. Its work, and the complete turnaround of Mazda's fortunes, was recognized in 2003 when a panel of Motor Trader judges gave Mazda Motors UK the Manufacturer of the Year award.

The energy and momentum found at Mazda in modern times is also evident in the string of concept cars that have been revealed over the last four years. Some, like the high performance Mazda6 MPS, are derivatives of road models designed to gauge the public's appetite; others like the Washu people carrier (Detroit 2003), or the Kusabi compact coupÈ (Frankfurt 2003) are clear statements about the confidence and ambition the brand now has.


In 2000 a US advertising agency, WB Doner, came up with the Zoom-Zoom tagline for Mazda in North America, and ran a series of ads showing Mazda MX-5s driving across the desert, along with exuberant children and adults looking for 'zoom' in their play and work. The idea behind the campaign was that Mazda helps you to relive that thrill of motion you first felt as a child.

The campaign was so successful it was rolled out around the world, and has now become a global catchphrase. The idea of Zoom-Zoom has not only helped to theme and identify Mazda's advertising in dozens of languages, it has also provided a hook, through which customers can come to understand what Mazda really stands for as a brand. Advertising, both on TV and in the press, and marketing campaigns, including the launch of a successful Mazda Magazine for UK customers, have focused on the thrill of driving, and action-based photography and footage have provided the visual imagery on which the brand has been developed.

Since 2000, and the introduction of more 'serious' and mature cars (epitomized by the Mazda6 and the Mazda RX-8) the idea of Zoom-Zoom has become more subtle and sophisticated: the latest Mazda3 TV campaign, for example, suggested the brand can also be individualistic and expressive, as well as energetic and fun.

Brand values

The Mazda brand sums itself up in three words - daring, ingenious and fun. The brand delivers on these values though products that combine all the high tech appeal and reliability of the Japanese marques, with more European emotive qualities such as driver enjoyment, sporting heritage and distinctive styling. Its quest to bring genuinely useful 'insightful' ideas to the market has resulted in ideas like the Karakuri seating system, available on the Mazda6 and the MPV, which allows the rear seats to be folded completely, with a simple pull of a lever; and the Freestyle door system, which brings four-door practicality to a sleek coupe.

The Mazda MX-5 has become a touchstone for the brand in terms of vehicle dynamics, and all Mazdas are now engineered to feel as light and responsive as the roadster. In this way, the brand and its Zoom-Zoom ad campaign goes further than being a concept. It is transferred into a tangible feeling at the wheel, a common sensation of agility and athleticism that links one Mazda product to the next.

Mazda also resonates with qualities such as build strength, reliability and value for money - attributes that kept the brand going throughout the 1990s when the range was less identifiable than it is now. Today, Mazda offers class-leading equipment levels in every segment, and it was named Britain's most reliable car manufacturer in the independent Warranty Direct Reliability Index for the third year running.

© 2004 Superbrands Ltd

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