NEW YORK As Mazda gears up for the September launch of its iconic Miata, now called MX-5, the market for under-$30,000 sports cars is heating up, thanks largely to the success of Ford's Mustang.
The market sector, which also includes the recently launched Mitsubishi Eclipse and Toyota Scion tC and expands this year and next to include the Pontiac Solstice roadster and Saturn Sky, is up 36 percent, per J.D. Power & Associates, Thousand Oaks, Calif., greater than any other industry segment. In June alone, the sports car segment was up 71 percent.
Mazda today starts promoting its entry via a cross-promotion with Time Warner and NBC. The campaign "NBC first look, presented by Mazda" campaign includes on-air promotion, in-movie-theater advertising, print, CD-ROMs, interactive online (including a sweepstakes) and product placements in short teasers for new shows.
Regal Entertainment movie theaters will preview footage showing Mazda vehicles in NBC programs.
Product launches are driving the market, said Wes Brown of Iceology, Westwood, Calif. "The coupe and roadster segment, depending on how you define it, is a segment that performs well when there's new product involved," he said. "The only time we seem to see major interest is when new sheet metal hits the road."
He speculates that new buyers are coming from statement seekers. "These are younger people who are pushing off marriage and kids until later," said Brown. "They want cars that provide much more styling, that fits attitude, image."
Both Brown and Sharon Lee, president of consultancy Look-Look, Los Angeles, think some new buyers are leaving behind larger vehicles. "SUVs aren't a fashion statement any more. There's over saturation, and lack of styling and innovation," said Lee.
Tim Blett, president of independent Doner, Mazda's agency in Newport Beach, Calif., concurs. "There are a three things coming together to fuel this: an emotional element, a growing mind-set of personal expression and gas prices," he said. "Those who wouldn't have thought a lot about their purchases and gone right into an SUV are second-guessing it."
Mazda will launch youth-oriented ads in September, touting the heritage of the vehicle as an "all new classic," with a theme of oneness between car and driver. Ads will use "Be the car" as a slogan.
Mitsubishi, meanwhile, has sold 1,900 of its 2006 Eclipses through June. Dave Schembri evp of sales and marketing at the Cypress, Calif., automaker, said those numbers are more than double early Mitsubishi sales estimates for the car's launch. "The orders have exceeded our expectations," he said, leading the firm to raise production at its Normal, Ill., plant.
The unit sales goal within Mitsubishi was higher before the Eclipse launch, about 35,000 for the year, which tops the 20,000 it is on pace to sell, sources said. Mitsubishi's reinvestment in the brand's advertising was contingent upon sales success. Sources said some dealers are trying to convince the company to call 20,000 deliveries in its first year a success.
Tom Croxton, president of Huntington Beach Mitsubishi, said he's sold out. "Our traffic has tripled. It's created traffic we haven't seen since the free-credit days," he said, adding the car is on the shopping list with Nissan's 350Z and Infiniti's G35.
Croxton said the problem is availability. "We have five or six in stock, which isn't very many. I'm one of the top dealers in the country, and yesterday I got our eleventh or twelfth in," he said.
—with Gregory Solman