The newly revealed 2015 Mazda MX-5 will trade on its edgier design and sharper sub-$40K pricing to reclaim the youthful audience that has stopped buying the roadster in recent times when it launches in the second half of next year.
Mazda concedes its most iconic offering became a bit of an “old person’s” car within the outgoing NC model’s life-cycle, reflected by the company’s decision to offer only the safety-first hard-topped version since 2012, with a price nudging $50K.
But with the smash hit $30K Toyota 86 proving that it is still possible to lure young buyers into sports cars so long as they’re priced and designed right, Mazda says it has had a re-think, and will take the all-new ND closer to the pricing ground it needs to scoop up this crowd.
This strategy should also see annual sales creep back towards their peak. The 25-year-old MX-5 is the world’s top-selling sports car over its lifecycle, with about 970,000 sold thus far.
On the face of it, the NC held up okay in Australia. Over their lives, the NA averaged about annual 530 deliveries here, the NB about 880 and the NC about 611.
But the drop off for the NC in its final years was sharper than either of its predecessors, with only 159 and 178 units sold in 2012 and 2013 respectively — the lowest since its 1989 inception. Toyota and Subaru introduced their 86/BRZ twins in 2011.
The need to boost ND sales also applies globally as well, with the NC being the slowest seller of any despite being the only one offered in China. Over their respective lifecycles, the NA averaged about 46,000 units, the NB around 37,000 and the NC about 25,000.
As we have reported, Mazda Australia looks certain to kick off the range with an opening gambit of below $40K, thanks to the introduction of a new downsized engine option, speculated to be a tuned version of its 1.5-litre naturally aspirated Skyactiv petrol used in the new Mazda 2.
Company executives are sworn to secrecy, but don’t be too surprised to see this 1.5 version getting close to the current car’s 118kW/188Nm 1.8-litre in output. Given the ND weighs about 100kg less, it should kick along just fine.
Further up the range will likely be a 2.0-litre version, expected to be non-turbo (for now) with somewhere around 125-130kW of power. All engines will be laid out longitudinally, send power to the rear wheels and come with six-speed manual and six-speed automatic gearboxes.
The company considers it especially important to differentiate variants by engine offerings as well as specification, Mazda Australia managing director Martin Benders told CarAdvice this week, after re-affirming a targeted entry point of under $40,000, with the continuation of a circa-$50K version with more equipment. The future of the hard-top is unclear.
“It’s a strategy that we’ve been pushing for from our end and something they’re (Mazda globally) starting to work on,” he said.
“I’m not saying they’re doing it because of us, but I think they’re starting to realise that if you’re in the showroom and just selling on equipment difference, it’s a different conversation, whereas if you can also talk about ‘plus it has this engine or whatever’, that always helps.”
This sharper price, as well as the edgy design and — potentially — a number of youth-focused promotional activities perhaps even including some form of racing involvement, should drastically shift downward the NC’s aged demographic.
“In the first couple of models and maybe even in the current (NC) one, we had a group of younger people and then older people buying it, so it was sort of that profile. As we’ve aged the current one we’ve basically evolved to hard-top only and its older group only, there are virtually no younger people buying it.
“86 Toyota has sort of shown that you get a bit more aggressive on where you position it and a better design and you can get some people back into sports cars, and I think this car has the credentials to do that. From a design perspective, and if we get the pricing right we’ll look to capture a few of those guys as well. That’s the idea,” he said.
Later, Benders added: “What happened with the current one is the electric hardtop really changed the characteristic of the car and it became an old person’s car to some extent. With the others we kept more young people in it.”
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