Mazda and Hyundai are locked in a race to take the crown as Australia’s most popular full-line vehicle importer in 2014, though it seems neither Mazda Australia managing director Martin Benders nor Hyundai Australia COO John Elsworth are as interested in the battle as those of us who follow the industry figures - or at least they won't admit to as much.
As of the end of August, sales of Mazda's seven-model line-up have slipped 4.5 per cent 67,487 units, with all models bar the Mazda 3 and CX-5 tracking down on 2013. Its Korean nemesis has in contrast bucked an overall market drop of 2.5 per cent to grow 4.3 per cent up to 66,589 units from its larger but less-concentrated 10-model range.
Hyundai is thereby only 898 units behind Mazda, and gaining ground. Whoever wins will likely finish third overall behind Holden, currently up 2.9 per cent on 74,398 units, and always-rampant Toyota, down 5.7 per cent but still on 133,229 deliveries year-to-date. On a side note, Holden chief Gerry Dorizas said in April that his company wanted to oust Toyota from this position by 2020.
The race between the Japanese and Korean volume players wasn’t always so close. This time last year the difference was more marked. Mazda had 70,637 deliveries on its books and was breathing down the neck of Holden, while Hyundai had 63,796 to its name.
However, Mazda argues that it and Hyundai are playing different games. Mazda, as ever, doesn’t chase fleet sales on any cars bar the BT-50 ute, and is selling impressively big numbers of its higher-specced variants.
Case in point is the Mazda 3, which this year is the market’s second-biggest selling car behind the Toyota Corolla, but has bucked the trend in the small car segment by selling largely as a more premium offering.
Of the 29,069 sales YTD, only 20 per cent are entry-level (and thereby less-profitable) Neos. In its previous generation, the Neo accounted for greater than 50 per cent, but now the $2500 more expensive Maxx (30 per cent of sales) is clearly the better-value buy, and thereby attracts Mazda’s almost exclusively private audience.
Speaking this week with CarAdvice, Benders said Hyundai’s share of fleet and entry-level sales was greater, and while he conceded it was possible for the Korean brand to usurp his company at the top of the importer charts, he said Mazda was not prepared to alter its approach to save its position.
“Anything’s possible. We’ve got our own plans in place. We are running out of Mazda 2s (due for replacement inside two months) and we’re not going to give away unnatural discounts just to buy a ranking,” Benders said.
Benders also said finishing as leading importer had no particularly special importance to Mazda HQ in Japan, which one could be forgiven for thinking is the case given Mazda’s mysterious and disproportionately strong market share in Australia compared with almost anywhere else in the world.
“We think we’re going to finish flat year-on-year, and they’re (Mazda headquarters) okay with that. They don’t expect us to fight off Hyundai or anything like that,” Benders said.
As we reported last week, Mazda is planning to push greater numbers of its under-performing Mazda 6 (down 26.7 per cent, albeit in a fading and fleet-dominated segment) and BT-50 (down 12.5 per cent in important 4x4 form), albeit through marketing means and by re-focusing dealers in the case of the ute, rather than price adjustments.
Speaking in response to the accusations of heavier discounts and a greater focus on entry cars from Mazda, Hyundai Australia chief operating officer John Elsworth told CarAdvice the company focused on its own targets rather than any particular sales ranking.
"We look at our own targets and hitting them, rather than looking at the 'leaderboard' and our ranking against other manufacturers," he said. CarAdvice understands from company sources that it is in fact discussed less often that one might be forgiven for thinking.
Hyundai Australia offered no comment on whether it indulged in bigger discounts than Mazda.
So, the companies in question swear they're not really having a battle royale after all. Industry followers like yours truly will still follow it closely though.