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Sculpting your own success

Can you put a price on beauty? The story of how focusing on design helped Mazda to reap record profits suggests that you can.

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In Singapore, the Mazda 3 (above) has become the nation's favourite car for the first time. Sales of 3,091 units in the first half of 2017 have enabled it to overtake the Toyota Corolla Altis as the top seller here.

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The MX-5 (above) won the World Car Design Of The Year Award in 2016, one of more than 30 awards for the car in general.

BEAUTY can ensure that a person never has trouble filling their social calendar, but can it also help a company boost its profits? That seems to be one takeaway from Mazda's ongoing run of success. After overhauling its approach to design and setting a clear new direction for its styling department, the company has seen impressive results.

Last year, the Japanese brand booked record sales volumes and with them, unsurpassed profits. 2016 was the third straight year that Mazda recorded a new profit record.

This year has been no different so far. Mazda's production volume for the first six months of 2017 is up 3.6 per cent over the same period last year, to 784,056 cars and commercial vehicles.

In Singapore, the Mazda 3 has become the nation's favourite car for the first time. Sales of 3,091 units in the first half of 2017 have enabled it to overtake the Toyota Corolla Altis as the top seller here.

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That comes on the back of record volume for the brand in general. Over a five-year period, Mazda saw its market share here grow more than eight-fold to approximately 8 per cent as of the end of 2016; higher, incidentally, than the market share Mazda enjoys at home.

Not all of Mazda's success can be directly credited to the strength of its designers, of course. Its sales in Singapore only took off after a change in distributor in 2011, when the Eurokars Group added it to its stable of brands.

Shortly after Ford Motor Company sold its controlling stake in Mazda, the brand revamped its engineering approach to focus on building cars that are fun to drive and fuel-efficient.

But those achievements are less likely to have found an audience without the snazzy design needed to catch the eye of the car-buying public.

On that front, Mazda has been wildly successful. The MX-5, a two-seat convertible sportscar that embodies Mazda's sense of fun, won the World Car Design Of The Year Award in 2016, one of more than 30 awards for the car in general. The Mazda 6 was a finalist for the same design award in 2013 and so was the Mazda 3 in 2014, while the other two finalists this year were the Jaguar XE and, incredibly, another Mazda in the form of the CX-3, a compact crossover car.

In 2015 three Mazda models were recognised for their design at the prestigious Red Dot Awards, and the list of such kudos goes on. Clearly, Mazda's design awards are not flukes.

But does it matter that the cars are pretty? Ikuo Maeda, the executive officer and general manager of Mazda's Design Division, said that the MX-5's World Car Design victory is "proof that our designs can connect with people all around the world".

Mazda's designs have raised the profile of its brand, too. A few years ago, readers of Auto, Motor und Sport, an influential German car magazine, ranked Mazda in the top 10 of their list of car companies with the best design, according to Atsuhiro Takahashi, the staff manager for Mazda's Advanced Design Studio. Mazda was the only Japanese brand on the list, and was the highest-ranking manufacturer that wasn't a luxury carmaker.

A separate survey by the same magazine saw Mazda rise in terms of emotional appeal and quality perception, said Mr Takahashi, at a tour for motoring journalists in Mazda's design offices in 2014, the same year that Mazda's run of record profits began.

The lesson seems clear for any business: If you can catch the customers' eye, their hearts and minds soon follow. Eventually, their cash will, too.

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