DETROIT -- Mazda made it official Tuesday after years of speculation, announcing it will follow its rivals and reinforce its presence in the U.S. luxury car market with a separate dealer network.
Executives of the Japanese automaker said the luxury division will be called Amati and begin selling two all-new sedans in the spring of 1994. The cars will be built at a new luxury car plant in Hofu, Japan.
Mazda is said to be considering a V12 engine for its flagship sedan, although a V8 will most likely be the main engine in the more expensive model. Industry analysts peg base prices at between $35,000 and $45,000 in today's dollars for the sedans. Coupe versions will likely follow.
Mazda is the fourth Japanese automaker to create a separate sales network to sell luxury cars and attract buyers moving up from their less expensive brands, or from more expensive European brands.
Honda created its Acura division in March 1986. Toyota's Lexus and Nissan's Infiniti divisions began selling luxury cars in late 1989.
Mazda's decision leaves Mitsubishi the only ranking Japanese automaker in the United States without a separate luxury division.
Mazda said Amati plans to offer dealerships in each of the top markets across the nation. But unlike its competitors, Mazda will not require its dealers to construct separate showrooms or service facilities.
'That may save dealers between $2 million and $3 million based on what investments have been for Lexus and Infiniti,' said industry analyst Michael Luckey, of the Lucky Consulting Group in Westwood, N.J.
'That will make it a lot easier for Mazda to get good dealers to carry the brand,' Luckey added. 'Money is tight even for the best dealers, and one may be hesitant to finance that much for something more than two years away. It also helps Mazda save a lot of money by not having to provide a lot of incentives to dealers to help them out.'
One challenge, however, will be for Mazda to create within the same showroom a different kind of atmosphere for Amati, versus the basic Mazda products.
Mazda said it decided on the Amati name after an extensive process that included computer-generated names. The word comes from the Latin word 'amatus,' meaning 'to love.' It also is the name of a family of Italian craftsmen in the 16th and 17th which originated the design of the modern violin.
Richard Colliver was named group vice president and general manager of Amati. He served as the leader of the Pegasus Task Force, formed two years ago to study the luxury-car market in the United States.
Studies revealed that the number of affluent households with an income of at least $75,000 is increasing sharply, from 2 million in 1988 to 2.5 million in 1995.
Amati's national headquarters will be in Irvine, Calif., where Mazda's U.S. operations now are based.