Mazda, Mitsubishi appoint new Canadian CEOs

The companies' new leaders face marketing challenges in a market that's become favourable to Japanese automakers.

Mazda-CX3

Japanese automakers have been experiencing major growth in Canada.

While several leading car companies, including Ford and Chevrolet, reported selling fewer vehicles in Canada last year, Japanese companies have collectively bucked that trend, clocking their fifth consecutive year of sales growth in Canada and a new market share of roughly 37%, according to the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association of Canada.

New top executives at Mazda and Mitsubishi Canada will look to make the most of that momentum as they take on new duties this month.

David KlanMazda Canada was the first to announce a leadership change in March, naming 27-year veteran David Klan (right) as president and CEO, succeeding Masaharu Kondo. Klan has served as director of marketing for Mazda Canada, as general manager of global brand marketing at Mazda in Japan, and as director of marketing and regional general manager for North American Operations in the U.S.

Since returning to Canada in 2009, Klan has led the company’s national sales, marketing and regional operations as senior director. He becomes the first Canadian since 2006 to helm the Mazda subsidiary.

Days later, Mitsubishi Canada unveiled its own leadership change. Juyu Jeon (below) was named president and CEO of the company, replacing Tony Laframboise who has held the position for two years. Jeon also has a marketing background, having most recently served as VP of sales and marketing, corporate planning and business control.

While car companies face stiff competition in Canada, brands like Mazda and Mitsubishi find themselves strongly positioned with products that strike an attractive balance between quality, design, safety and affordability, according to Emma Hancock, partner at ad agency Heroes & Villains and a frequent commentator on the automotive industry.

However, she notes the many challenges these companies and others have in building their car brands in 2019 include: shrinking budgets, more ambitious sales targets and competing luxury brands launching entry-level vehicles starting under $30,000.

MitsubishiMazda Canada’s sales dipped 0.3% last year, which the company says was largely the result of having needed to temporarily suspend production due to heavy rains and flooding in Japan. The company’s 2018 annual report pegs estimated Canadian growth at 3% for 2019.

“While we have seen our crossover business grow significantly to over 60% of our volume,” Klan says, “I still believe we have the greatest opportunity in the compact SUV segment where [the] CX-5 competes.”

As Mazda Canada’s CEO, Klan’s priorities include moving the brand in a more premium direction, while building on the work of the brand’s new “Feel Alive” platform, launched in March of last year. The platform, which has been used in campaigns locally, aims to put “fans” at the centre of its marketing activities. And Klan says he will continue forging ahead on Mazda’s efforts to enhance the customer experience in its showrooms through the company’s “Clubhouse of Driving Passion” program.

Mitsubishi Canada could not be reached for comment, but said in a release that the company is “about to embark on a dealer image rejuvenation program, an aggressive product offensive and overall growth strategy for the brand.”

From a marketing perspective, Hancock says that “made in Canada” campaigns could be “a big deal” for these automakers. “So much of what we see from multinational brands has been produced elsewhere,” she says. “Often, local marketing power is diluted by the need to adhere to a global strategy that may or may not be relevant to Canadians.”

She believes the winners in auto will be those who succeed at revitalising the car-buying experience (which both Mazda and Mitsubishi have set out to do), because the “shopping experience needs to fit the expenditure.” Cadillac, for one, recently worked with Isobar Canada on “Cadillac Live,” an experiential campaign enabling shoppers to connect with a live agent, view live-streams of vehicles, and have their questions answered from the comfort of their living rooms.

“In a nutshell, I believe that car makers who address the negative aura that exists around the car shopping experience will win,” she says. “But they’ll have to do things completely differently than they are now – which is virtually unchanged since the 1950s.”

Ford ranked #1 in total Canadian auto sales in February, according to Statista, followed by Toyota and Honda. Mazda came in at #13, behind Volkswagen, while Mitsubishi was not included on the list of brands by number of units sold.