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Spend any time hovering around the auto industry these days and you’re likely to hear the term, DNA, more often than you would at a convention of bio-geneticists.

In today’s crowded and fragmented car market, customers have become increasingly fickle and new products can easily get lost and sink below the surface. To stand out from the crowd, smart manufacturers look to emphasize and build on those qualities –think of them as chrome and steel genes – that best define their brand, helping make the most positive connection with potential buyers. Two of the best examples are BMW’s performance heritage and Volvo’s emphasis on safety.

The search for defining characteristics isn’t always easy. And sometimes consumers identify DNA a manufacturer might prefer to forget about. Remember Rodney King’s Hyundai? That’s one automaker that spent the last decade practicing gene splicing, hoping to overcome its primal roots as a purveyor of cheap transportation.

Mazda DNA

2004 Mazda3

2004 Mazda3

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Few carmakers speak of DNA more than Mazda. But what is it that defines the Japanese automaker, which has gone through a seemingly endless series of near-death experiences and subsequent rebirths since first entering the U.S. market three decades ago? Probably no Mazda product could provide a purer sample than the new RX-8: with a distinctive and sporty design that translates into creative functionality, it’s powered by that most quirky of powerplants, the rotary engine, which has long been a Mazda trademark.

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