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Old 03-14-2006, 08:24   #1 (permalink)
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US:Mazda slaps export restrictions on dealers

Mazda slaps export restrictions on dealers

Mark Rechtin
Automotive News

LOS ANGELES -- Hearing that overseas gray-marketers want the upcoming Mazda CX-7 sport wagon, Mazda North American Operations has placed export restrictions on its dealers.

Several Mazda dealers have been contacted by exporters offering to buy the vehicle in bulk. Mazda Motor Corp. in Japan also discovered a Russian Web site asking for deposits for gray-market CX-7s that would be imported into that country.

Production of the CX-7 began in Japan in February. It goes on sale in April, initially in North America. Its base price is $24,340, including shipping. Mazda says the Russian Web site was offering the vehicle for the equivalent of $57,000.

The export policy was announced at Mazda's national dealer council meeting in California last week.

Joe Shaker, a multifranchise dealer in Wellesley, Mass., says the policy is fair.

"Mazda felt that dealers who were flagrant about the export business should be (disciplined) because it could create a false turn-and-earn situation," says Shaker, who said he had been contacted by someone in Europe to export CX-7s there. "The big surprise to Mazda was that there already was an export demand before the launch of the car," Shaker added.

Mazda previously did not have export restrictions for dealers. But most manufacturers who have market-specific vehicles already have such policies.

Mazda said officials in North America heard about the interest on the part of exporters from the home office in Japan. Mazda executives declined to detail the restrictions, saying they wanted to inform dealers directly rather than through the media.

But dealers at the meeting said Mazda likely would trim future allocations of dealers found to have claimed exported vehicles as sales to U.S. individuals. Dealers in violation of the policy also might be stripped of factory perks such as Winner's Circle status, gained by hitting sales and customer satisfaction targets. Volume-based incentives gained by exporting cars also likely would be forfeited.

Mike Rocchi, president of Faulkner Mazda in Philadelphia, said he was one of the dealers contacted by a Florida-based exporter. Rocchi said he could not recall the name of the company that called him, but he said a woman offered to buy 20 CX-7s in the first month, ramping up to 200 units a month later on. He said he declined the offer.

"It's not good for the brand or the dealers to send cars somewhere else," Rocchi said. "I don't know how easy it is for Mazda to track exports made by dealers. Maybe they can by what the (retail delivery report) looks like. But if some dealer wants to game the system, they'll do what they have to do."
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