LEVERKUSEN, Germany - Mazda will launch its bestseller in Japan, the Demio mini-MPV, in major European markets in August.
Germany, the UK, France and Spain get the vehicle initially. Timing in Italy and elsewhere is still under discussion.
'Whether the Demio will become Mazda's best-selling car in Europe is a very good question,' said Jiro Maebayashi, product program manager for the vehicle. 'After several months we will know. I am not thinking too much about it yet, but I think the Demio will sell more than our original plan for 17,000-18,000 per year in all European markets.'
Mazda's current bestseller in Europe is the 323, which accounts for around half total registrations at 32,245 through the first four months.
The Demio, based on the 121 platform, has sold 164,000 units in Japan since launch in the autumn of 1996. Last year it was Japan's eighth best-selling car. In May, it was the No. 3 car in Japan. In addition, Mazda supplies a version to its parent company Ford, which sells it as the Festiva Mini-Wagon. More than 23,000 have been registered in Japan.
Tim Tozer, managing director of Mazda Cars (UK), said the Demio was difficult to categorize, and had no direct rivals.
'It is not one of the tall cars, and it has none of the wackiness of some Japanese models, but its versatile seating and many stowage facilities suggest mini MPV. We see it as a mini Renault Megane Scenic, or a mini Daihatsu Grand Move without the quirkiness.'
The supermini Demio is the length of a Ford Fiesta, but wider and taller.
Ford and Mazda are using the Demio as the testbed for fuel cell technology, and the FCEV (Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle) running prototype is said to have a range of 170km at speeds to 90kph on a full charge of hydrogen.
Demio sales projections for Europe's main markets through 1999 are 5,400 in Germany, 1,550 in the UK, 950 in France and 900 in Spain.
So far the car has been unveiled only in the UK. The on-the-road price of the GLX with 72hp engine, electric windows, electric sunroof, central locking, four-speaker audio and heated rear window with wash/wipe is quoted at $16,880 (basic before tax $13,474).
Germany and Spain will also get the 72hp version without sunroof, and will get an LX version with 63hp engine and less equipment. France will get the LX version only. Air conditioning may be fitted as standard in some markets.
'The Demio is a very interesting package and the kind of car that Europe is looking for,' Maebayashi said. 'Our philosophy is that we are doing Europe a favor by offering this car.
'In Japan we are looking for customers among young couples and those with a family who need a car for daily use but at the same time may carry a lot of luggage at weekends.'
Maebayashi said the car is sized for city and suburban traffic, with good handling, performance and safety. 'We think these qualities apply in Europe and we think that the Demio will be highly regarded in Europe because of them,' Maebayashi said.
Tozer said that in the UK, Mazda will seek 'lifestyle and lifestage consumers from couples with and without young families through to empty-nesters looking for a smaller car.'