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In recent years, Japanese manufacturers have been busy building small, low-cost, fuel-efficient vehicles for ASEAN markets, taking advantage of various tax breaks and other benefits for these cars in countries, such as the Eco Car project in Thailand and the Low Cost Green Car (LCGC) in Indonesia.

Incentives from these programmes – which demand small 1.2 litre engines, compact size and low fuel consumption – have given rise to cars such as the Honda Brio, Mitsubishi Mirage/Attrage, Nissan March/Almera, Suzuki Swift and Toyota Yaris in Thailand and the Daihatsu Ayla and Toyota Agya twins, the Datsun GO/GO+ and the Suzuki Karimun Wagon R in Indonesia. However, one Japanese carmaker is conspicuously missing, and that is Mazda.

At a business presentation for ASEAN markets in Japan recently, executive officer for growing markets Hiroshi Inoue explained why the Hiroshima carmaker has largely avoided what must be a fairly lucrative segment. A small company like Mazda, he said, could not afford to diversify its product portfolio to suit different markets, as it did not have the cashflow to do so.

Inoue added that to build an eco or budget car, the company would have had to scale back its investment in the next generation of its so-called SkyActiv vehicles, i.e. those from the CX-5 onward, which feature the Kodo design language, SkyActiv powertrains and new technologies.

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Instead, the company pushed on with the development of its core global models which are more premium and technologically-advanced, banking on the increase of more affluent buyers in emerging markets to be enticed by its cars. And judging by its sales figures in ASEAN – which jumped from around 78,000 units in 2014 to about 102,000 in 2015, an increase of 24,000 units – it appears that strategy is working very well for Mazda.

Actually, Mazda already has one model that is classified as an eco car – the Mazda 2 1.5 SkyActiv-D diesel, sold in Thailand, complies with the country’s Eco Car regulations, the first diesel car to do so. However, we’re assuming that Inoue is referring to specially-developed models targeted for this region, such as the Honda Brio and the Daihatsu Ayla/Toyota Agya.

Mazda is on a roll in Malaysia – it has recently launched its range of diesel-powered models, the CX-5 and Mazda 6 2.2 SkyActiv-D, and is gearing up to introduce the MX-5 RF and the CX-9 sometime at the end of the year or in early-2017.