Mazda in China – A Riches to Rags Stories

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In 1992 Mazda and a local car factory in Hainan, Haima, signed a deal that would see the two produce Mazda’s produce in the Chinese market, the deal lasted until 2006 when Haima fell under First Automobile Work’s control and took with it Mazda. Mazda and FAW subsequently established a licensing deal where FAW was free to produce certain Mazda models in China. Under Ford’s stewardship Mazda was brought into the Chang’an JV but later restructured and created its own 50:50 JV which was set up in Nanjing.

Mazda are planning to go through a period of brand development in the Chinese market under a ‘One Mazda’ title where the Japanese company will move to improve its brand image by introducing new Mazda models into the Chinese market. Mazda gained a strong foothold in the mid size sedan segment with the launch of the first generation of Mazda 6 but the company failed to follow up with any comprehensive products, the introduction of the Mazda 2 and 3 at Chang’an-Mazda also raised sales, again sales tapered off as the competition improved their own product range and Mazda stagnated.

Mazda was hit exceptionally hard with the Diaoyu Dao island spat that flared up in September 2012, already the ‘poor boy’ of the major Japanese brands in China, Mazda’s sales saw double digit decline for a greater period than either Toyota or Honda.

In 2010 Mazda cleared sales of 240,000 vehicles which was an impressive 17% increase over the previous year but by 2011 growth had disappeared, a negative balance of -10% sales drop was shown at the end of 2011 with 215,000 cars sold and an even worse showing in 2012 with an 18.7% drop. The first half of 2013 is quite possibly the worst to date – in the first half of the year Mazda sold just 82,000 vehicles, a huge drop of 20.6%.

Things are looking good for Mazda again, the Diao Yu Dao issue has gone to the back of even the most fervent Chinese nationalist’s mind for the time being, and Mazda are bringing new products to China. The latest generation of Mazda 6 has been imported to China under the Atenza name and will be eventually built in China later this year, early adopters have been sighted out on the roads and media reviews are more than favorable. The CX5 SUV was imported at the start of the year but hasn’t picked up too many sales, the Chang’an-Mazda version launches this month into the hottest segment in the Chinese market and should bring a much needed sales boost to Mazda over the next few months.  Mazda aren’t sitting idly by while sales continue to sink, a new Mazda 2 and Mazda 3 will be introduced along with an even smaller CX3 Compact SUV as well as a super mini named the Mazda 1, all of which are coming to China as part of Mazda’s One Mazda strategy.

With Mazda missing out on the ‘golden years‘ of the Chinese auto market, it is facing an uphill battle to bring finicky Chinese consumers back on board over the next few months.

About the author  ⁄ Ash

Ash came to China at 18 and never looked back, a decade later he is still here. After a 4 year stint in a Chinese University where he gained a double BA in Chinese and International Trade he worked for a myriad of different companies in the Chinese Auto industry before heading back to school to get an MBA with a focus in marketing.


  • Matthew
    July 26, 2013

    Today I learned you can buy a first generation Mazda 6 in China still!

  • dragin
    July 26, 2013

    Mazda, as they say is “the horse that will arrive by itself”. Though way behind Toyota, Nissan and Honda in China, it has enjoyed better luck than Mitsubishi and Subaru. Althouigh its early joint venture with little Hainan Haima was downgraded prematurely in 2007, it’s affiliation with Ford got it a chance for a joint venture with the big gun, Chang’an Auto.

    Even earlier, around 2003, it had teamed up with another big guy, the industry’s elder brother, FAW. But that relationship remained an obscure jv, or limited license tie-up, that never bore fruit like the ones that VW-Audi and Toyota have with the giant SOE. It seemed to never get beyond the Mazda gives, and FAW keeps taking arrangement. After all where would FAW “own brand” be without its Mazda technology underpinning the Besturn line?

    As for the Ford-Mazda tie-up, that was like a ball and chain for Mazda in China when it ran into common supplier problems, and Ford’s nagging about access to R&D. On top of this Mazda saw it’s Mazda3 production interrupted for seven months because of a production rights conflict between rival operations at Chang’an and FAW.

    Anyway now that Mazda is free of Ford, and has its own joint venture with Chang’an, it needs to get its national sales distribution network somehow unified in order to assure a better future in China.

    When you look at Mazda’s body styling it surely stands out among its Japanese brothers, but at the same time it comes up short in the quality of materials department. Were it somehow able to join the two, the resultant package would be hard to beat.

  • Matthew
    July 27, 2013

    Under FAW it was thought that Mazda would strike it rich, certain models came like the Mazda6 and the Mazda2 but the 3 was so late to the market and came just as the anti-Japanese riots flared up that nobody was really interested in it.

    I hope that Mazda can find some love with the new Atenza, it is a striking vehicle out on the roads.

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