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JAPAN:Despite gains, Mazda exec looking to improve distribution, brand credibility

Despite gains, Mazda exec looking to improve distribution, brand credibility

By JAMES B. TREECE | Automotive News

TOKYO - Mazda Motor Corp. has three items on its list to improve U.S. performance, according to a senior executive.

Mazda's U.S. sales are up 18.2 percent to 140,536 units in the first half on strong sales of the Mazda6, Mazda3 and RX-8.

The carmaker also is profitable in the United States after several years of losses. But John Parker, Mazda executive vice president and one of Mazda's top three managers, is not satisfied.

"We've still got a lot of work to do in that particular market in rebuilding brand credibility and our dealer strength," says the 56-year-old South African native, who joined Mazda last August.

To realize that growth, Parker says, Mazda must:

>>> Develop cars more attuned to North American customers.

>>> "Substantially" improve its distribution network.

>>> Improve the public's perception of the Mazda brand.

Mazda's brand perception is "inconsistent around the world, and weaker in North America" than elsewhere, Parker says.

Parker says the United States and China offer the best growth prospects for the Japanese carmaker.

He says Mazda needs "to continue to provide exciting products that are relevant to consumers."

"One of the reasons our brand is not that strong in North America is we have not done that consistently over five, 10 or 15 years," he says. "We haven't delivered the quality of products that the market expects. We haven't listened adequately to the way the customer wants the product to work for them in that market.

"So the feature content and the way the product delivers for them has not been properly attuned to that customer," Parker adds. "We do a good job of that in Japan, we do a great job in Europe. But we do a less-quality job in North America."

But Parker says Mazda is improving in North America.

"Unfortunately there's this lag factor which you have to deal with," he says. "When you've disappointed customers in the past, you have to do it four times better and for probably four times longer before you can truly get them back into your showrooms."

Mazda also must do a better job of developing cars attuned to American buyers, he says.

"When we've brought good products, they have caused some level of dissatisfaction because of the way we've brought them to market and not adequately listened to the North American consumer," Parker says.

To beef up its distribution, Mazda's "whole logistics and parts availability also has to be refined and improved," he says. "Last but not least, we need to make sure that those dealerships are profitable and earn a return on their investment, so that they see Mazda as a good business."

Being more attuned to customers also should help Mazda improve its quality scores on surveys such as the J.D. Power and Associates 2004 Initial Quality Study. Korea's Hyundai Motor Co. leapfrogged Mazda and a host of other Japanese companies on that survey in April.

"We don't talk about it a lot, but we're not happy about our overall quality situation," Parker says. "We think we need to do a lot better.

"Mazda's technical quality is actually quite good," he says. "Where we haven't been as capable is actually understanding the customer's requirements and feeding it into" the product-development process.

"Hyundai," he says, "has shown everybody: Get focused, get aggressive, get determined, and you can make a lot of progress."

My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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