SAN DIEGO, CA – Mazda is launching the ’14 Mazda3, but the auto maker doesn’t expect, or even need, the new model to gain market share in the ultra-competitive U.S. C-segment, the car’s vehicle line manager says.

Since its introduction in 2003, the Mazda3 has accounted for 40% of the auto maker’s U.S. sales.

“With the recent success of the CX-5 and Mazda6, the dependence on the Mazda3 has been eased,” Dave Matthews, tells WardsAuto during a backgrounder on the car here.

“We would be doing well with maintaining share in the C-segment that we have with Mazda3 now, and have potential to grow it, but we’re not setting targets higher,” he says. “I think it would be great if the Mazda3 isn’t 40% of sales. I would like to see more balance.”

Mazda3 sales were down 8.4% through August compared with year-ago to 72,968 units, good for eighth place in the Upper Small segment, according to WardsAuto data

However, Mazda CX-5 and Mazda6 deliveries have been trending in the other direction, with sales through August up 118.3% and 3.9%, respectively.

Although market-share gain is not the primary objective, Matthews expects the new Mazda3 to stand out in the increasingly competitive C-segment.

The original Mazda3 primarily competed against other Japanese offerings, including the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and Nissan Sentra, by offering more dramatic styling, higher levels of content and a focus on sporty driving, Matthews says.

Today, the Japanese auto makers not only have improved their C-segment vehicles, but U.S. and Korean auto makers also are pouring considerable resources into their entries.

“Other competitors have really started to improve their product,” Matthews says, noting competitors have gained ground in a segment Mazda once thought it had sewn up.   

Matthews says all auto makers now are paying attention to the C-segment, where sales are up 9.9% to 1,549,301 units through August, WardsAuto data shows.

With its sleek “Kodo” exterior design, which Mazda describes as the “Soul of Motion,” and the same focus on driving attributes and content as the previous model, Matthews says he expects the new Mazda3 to remain competitive.

New features include a head-up display, the new Mazda Connect infotainment system and Smart City Brake Support, which primes the brakes when a potential collision is detected and stops the car should the driver fail to take evasive maneuvers.

“One of the things we did in 2003 is come out with a really interesting car, a car that set itself apart in attractiveness in the inside and outside, and in craftsmanship,” Matthews says. “It’s fun to drive, and I think we still own that space.”

Now on sale, the ’14 Mazda3 offers a 5-door hatchback or 4-door sedan, with prices starting at $16,945.

bpope@wardsauto.com