One minute, the terrain resembles a lava-strewn moonscape, a mile later, a tropical oasis. So it goes on the “Big Island” of Hawaii, where Mazda has gathered a small clutch of auto writers for a preview of its new Protege5 and MP3 models.
The setting is, in a sense, appropriate. The unusual island offers a surprisingly wide range of climates as one climbs from its warm, azure coast to its frigid volcanic peaks. The two new Mazdas show just how much a manufacturer can vary the look and feel of a single platform in its bid to attract different buyers.
Once one of the hottest, hippest Japanese nameplates, Mazda has struggled in recent years, unable to find a distinctive niche. Sales have slumped, as buyers ignored its offerings in favor of more mainstream brands, such as Toyota and Honda. But during a recent background briefing, TheCarConnection.com got a close-up look at a wide range of products Mazda now has in the pipeline.
2002 Mazda MP3Enlarge Photo
“We tried to be like everyone else, and that didn’t work,” explains Executive Vice President Steve Odell. So Mazda’s going back to what it once did well, producing products aimed at niche buyers, if not the outright fringes of the market. There’s an all-new, rotary-powered sports car in the works, the RX-8. But the Protege5 and MP3 are the first to reach showrooms, and offer an insight into Mazda’s strategy.
On the digital superhighway?