It seems every auto brand wants to move upscale these days. Mazda is just one of the latest.
The company said it's developing a new look for its US dealerships even as many of its dealers are continuing to adopt a showroom-renovation program that Mazda launched 10 years ago. Such is the importance for car brands of creating a "retail experience" that fits consumers' self-importance as well as developing and introducing upscale vehicles that can boost a brand into an upscale neighborhood.
Mazda dealers are abuzz about the new design direction—discussed by Mazda executives withAutomotive News at the New York auto show last month—in part because dozens of them already are in the process of investing $2 million to $4 million in bringing their enterprises in compliance with a program Mazda called Retail Revolution when it launched the facility-upgrade program a decade ago. Retail Revolution facilities feature two-story, glass-enclosed vehicle displays and metal elements with green and orange accents.
The "youthful, industrial-chic vibe" of these showrooms "may lack the level of maturity that Mazda wants" as it goes upscale, Robert Davis, senior vice president of Mazda's US operations, told the publication. Mazda dealer Michael McDonald said he trusts Davis and other Mazda executives to ensure all their expense and effort to comply with Retail Revolution requirements won't be wasted. "I don't think they'll throw the baby out with the bath water," McDonald told Automotive News.
Hyundai, Kia and Scion are among the growing number of brands that lately have indicated they're attempting to move upscale through more sumptuous and higher-quality vehicles, carrying more robust pricing, as well as through retail-experience programs that range from new dealer-facility designs to better training of showroom personnel to explain infotainment technologies.
Some of the announced moves upscale are surprising. While Hyundai's new vehicles—such as the Equus sedan—have been moving the brand decidedly upscale, many industry observers speculated that Hyundai's sibling brand, Kia, would remain comfortable holding down the lower end of the mainstream auto market. But now Kia executives are saying that they want to move the brand upscale enough in the next few years to compete with German luxury marques.
Perhaps even more surprising is that Toyota executives are pondering an attempt to move Scionfrom an entry-level brand for twenty-somethings to a more upscale brand identity. In part, that reflects that Scion's Millennial audience isn't doing well economically these days.
Not every brand can go upscale and win. As more American consumers stagnate economically, the near-luxury segment could become a donnybrook—one that makes some of the newly ambitious brands wish they'd stayed where they were.