MAZDA RENEWS ITS FOCUS ON THE LUCRATIVE COMMERCIAL MARKET WITH THE BT-50
Mazda is driving its updated BT-50 ute down a different track.
While most rivals promote “car-like” comfort and lifestyle features as they chase the trendy metro market, Mazda is going back to basics, closely aligning its range with the core markets of fleets, farmers and tradies.
It’s even dropped the luxury Limited model that topped the previous range.
Mazda’s strategy is to let the Ford and Toyota giants fight it out for the high end of the ute market.
“You can throw luxury equipment into a truck, but it has to come at a price,” said Tim Nalden, Mazda’s product planning manager. “And despite having things like roof rails and sunroofs, the basic requirement of the ute is to carry a payload.”
Managing director Andrew Clearwater said the company worked closely with its dealers to decide how to market the BT-50 and he believes they have it right, with a “relevant range and the right balance of specification to price, critical to the target market.
“For tradespeople, their ute becomes their mobile office and, just like office rental, it has to be good for business if you can reduce overheads while offering additional features and options.”
One thing the Mazda executives said they kept hearing from dealers was, “don’t push the price”. As a result, new models are more than $1000 cheaper than the outgoing range, on a weighted average. The range starts at $35,295 for the 2WD GLX single-cab/chassis manual and tops out at $57,295 for the 4WD GSX double cab automatic.
Don’t pine too much about the demise of the luxury Limited, which accounted for about 8 per cent of BT-50 sales. Mazda said the door is open to equipment-loaded “special editions”, perhaps as soon as next year. And the GSX still has plenty of gear to show off to neighbours.
Clearwater said that, in some respects, the BT-50 had recently taken a back seat in the Mazda line-up. The company had spent the past year renewing or upgrading its entire range of passenger cars, except for the CX-9 crossover SUV, a new version of which is due early next year.
That “intense period of new model introductions” has been paying off, he said, moving Mazda to third place in the passenger market, and second behind Toyota when rentals are excluded.
Now, it’s the BT-50’s time as Mazda renews focus on the lucrative commercial market where the ute segment has been growing faster than passenger car sales, and faster than other parts of the commercial market. Mazda said passenger car sales are up 5 per cent so far this year, commercials 6.5 per cent, and utes more than 11 per cent.
“One in five new vehicles sold is a ute,” said Clearwater.
The BT-50 has had a nose-job to alter its most-discussed styling feature. A squared-off grille and corporate wing and headlamp treatment make it look less dainty and more rugged.
Interior changes include seat trims and better looking decoration panels.
The 147kW/470Nm five-cylinder 3.2 litre diesel engine continues with minor changes. Both the six-speed manual and six-speed sequential automatic have improvements, notably to the manual with a much better shift linkage. Mazda noted that more utes are now being sold with automatic than manual transmissions. A bonus for 2WD drivers is that all variants now have a locking rear differential that should be a huge help in low-traction conditions.
The range of 2WDs and 4WDs includes Single Cab, Freestyle Cab (which has decent space behind the front seats, accessible via clamshell-type doors) and Double Cab body styles. They come in GLX, GLX Sport and GSX specification grades.
Mazda believes there is strong growth potential for the under-achieving Freestyle configuration, which can have a longer load tray than a double cab. The 4WD GLX Freestyle cab/chassis automatic costs $50,295, its 2WD equivalent, $10,000 less.
Mazda is planning to sell the BT-50 not just on features and abilities, but also through strong customer support, something that Clearwater says “differentiates our brand from the competitors”.
Its Commercial Care package includes a capped service programme that limits scheduled maintenance to $200 per service. “It has been exceptionally successful and beyond our expectation as a retention tool,” Clearwater said.
“Before Customer Care, our service retention in the first year was just over 40 per cent but after three years, and an average of 75,000km, retention had dropped to 10 per cent.
“Since introduction of the plan, servicing of BT-50s in our dealership workshops has improved dramatically, with retention over a three year period of just under 90 per cent.
The programme, which includes roadside assistance, also offers an extended warranty of three years/150,000km, “recognising a number of our ute owners are doing significantly high mileage”.
BT-50’s bowl of alphabet soup features includes: Antilock Braking System (ABS), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Emergency Stop Signal (ESS), Hill Launch Assist (HLA), Roll Stability Control (RSC), Traction Control System (TCS), Emergency Brake Assist (EBA) and Load Adaptive Control (LAC) and front, side and curtain airbags, as well as a five-star ANCAP safety rating. All 4WD models have Hill Descent Control (HDC) and a Locking Rear Differential (LRD).
Back in the day...
Mazda has a long one-tonne ute history in New Zealand. It was first to introduce a Japanese-sourced light truck, the Proceed 1500, which arrived in late 1966 with a price tag of around $2700.
A year later, local production started at Steel Brothers in Christchurch and Mazda built a strong presence in the ute market, enjoying a 10 per cent market share.
It began a long partnership with Ford from 1971, with a mildly restyled version of the B-Series, first marketed as the Ford Courier.
It was introduced to counter the popularity of small, light commercials from such brands as Toyota and Datsun (now Nissan).
Mazda headed the engineering development of the Bounty and Courier until the 2011 BT-50 and Ranger.