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Hybrid on Mazda horizon

Upstart: The first production hybrid model to come from Mazda is likely to be based on the 3 small car.

Lessons from first hybrid due 2013 will see Mazda ‘improve’ on Toyota system: CEO

6 Dec 2011

MAZDA says it will learn valuable lessons from the Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) system it will license from Toyota for its first hybrid model – due on sale in Japan in 2013 and likely to be based on the Mazda3 – before introducing its own superior hybrid models.

In the meantime, the upstart Japanese brand remains unapologetically focused on improving the efficiency of the conventional internal combustion (IC) engine, global demand for which is expected to increase from 70 million units last year to 100 million in 2020.

Asked at last week’s Tokyo motor show if the company’s first hybrid vehicle would be based on an existing Mazda model – rather than a dedicated hybrid model like Toyota’s Prius, with which it will share its hybrid drive system – when it is released in Japan inside two years, Mazda Motor Corporation president and chief executive Takashi Yamanouchi told GoAuto: “Still in study stage. First (hybrid) step is existing model.”

Mr Yamanouchi stressed that future Mazda hybrids would improve on the efficiency of Toyota’s HSD system by combining advanced electronics such as the Takeri concept’s capacitor-based regenerative braking system with the company’s new range of lightweight SkyActiv platforms and petrol and diesel powertrains, which will come together for the first time in the all-new CX-5 crossover early next year.

“In the first generation (hybrid) we will learn from Toyota,” he said. “Then for the second generation we will develop our own improved version.”

Mazda’s global boss defended his company’s strategy of focusing on extracting maximum efficiency from the internal combustion (IC) engine before following Toyota down the hybrid route on the basis that improved IC engines benefit both conventionally powered vehicles as well as petrol- and diesel-electric hybrids.

22 center imageLeft: Mazda Motor Corporation president and chief executive Takashi Yamanouchi. Below: Mazda RX-8 and Premacy HRE hydrogen cars, Takeri and CX-5 SkyActiv technology images, Mazda2 EV.

“If you include hybrid and plug-in hybrid, 90 per cent of (new vehicle) demand will remain combustion. We don’t negate the usefulness of hybrid, but in any case improving the base engine will improve economy.

“But no matter how good hybrid and plug-in hybrid technology is, there will still be a very significant demand for the conventional internal combustion engine,”' he said.

Mr Yamanouchi stressed the current Mazda6 already offers hybrid-beating diesel efficiency and that the Takeri concept, which previews the next Mazda6 sedan that should deliver hybrid-beating diesel consumption as low as 4.2L/100km when it emerges globally within 12 months, would offer a 1500km driving range.

He also suggested the hybrid movement was a clever marketing strategy that was so successful in Japan that no car-maker could afford to ignore it.

“Consumers have varying and diversified taste. Those (car-makers) who are more emphasising hybrid and trying to promote that technology are, in a sense, brainwashing consumers,” he said.

“So we to want to be sure that we can provide consumers with a range of alternatives, especially hybrids in the Japanese market where there has been a lot of brainwashing of the consumer.”

Mr Yamanouchi pointed out that Mazda continued to develop hydrogen-fuelled rotary-hybrid models such as the domestic-market Premacy HRE people-mover.

“Hydrogen is an industrial by-product and has very exciting future potential,” he said.

“Premacy hybrid hints at one direction but right now cost is completely out of the box. In future, with more hydrogen refuelling stations it has more potential.”

He also said Mazda remained committed to developing its trademark rotary engine for potential use as both a dedicated power source and a range-extender for a plug-in hybrid model.

“There is work to be done with the rotary. To the extent that we keep up the flag of ‘Zoom Zoom’ it is the kind of product that we can never give up or distinguish the flame,” he said.

“We have declared that development will continue. We are studying how we can use rotary engine technology, including for range-extender and other applications.”

Mr Yamanouchi said EVs would be the final step in Mazda’s ‘building block’ strategy to reducing its fleet-average fuel consumption between 2008 and 2015 by 30 per cent, but said the public release of its 2012 Demio (Mazda2) EV lease vehicle inside or outside Japan would depend on demand.

“Scope of usage of EV is different to other types (of vehicles),” he said. “In densely populated regions with poor air, driving distance is short and car sharing is common, so in such conditions EVs are desirable.

“But if (there is only) one vehicle in household I don’t believe EVs will be the optimum choice. So I don’t negate at all the usefulness of EVs – that is why Mazda is doing research into them too.”

Mazda Australia spokesman Steve Maciver indicated that a hybrid Mazda would have a better chance of being released locally, but said neither electrification technology was on the near-term horizon for showrooms Down Under.

“Hybrids are probably something a little bit closer to fruition than the EV, but it’s not something that’s in the product plan for Australia,” he said.

“You’d have to look at it, but a lot of things have got to come into play. Pricing’s important, fuel economy figures are important. Our main focus right now is to get SkyActiv launched, get those core technologies in the range in Australia, and then think of the next step from there.”

Australia’s first taste of SkyActiv technology arrived in October in the form of the facelifted Mazda3 SP25 with 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G petrol four and SkyActiv-Drive six-speed automatic transmission.

The first all-Sky Mazda will go on sale here in March, when the all-new CX-5 compact SUV replaces the CX-7, although a next-generation SkyActiv chassis-based CX-7 will be developed for overseas markets.

The next 100 per cent SkyActiv model will be the 2013 Mazda6 sedan and wagon range, followed later that year by a redesigned Mazda2 light car, which could continue to share its platform with Ford’s Fiesta, and an all-new Mazda3 small car in 2014 – the same year Mazda’s new Sky-based MX-5 roadster is due.

Last year Mr Yamanouchi said Mazda planned to make its Sky technologies available to other car-makers, but declined to say whether that extended beyond engine technology to chassis architectures. Last week he said the company had fielded enquiries from several interested parties, but was now investigating how much intellectual property it was prepared to part with.

“Our first aim is to use SkyActiv to strengthen our brand,” he said. “We have received many enquiries. Once we get a good reputation we will then consider sharing SkyActiv. We have to see which course will least hinder our progress.

“There is a Japanese saying: ‘If you let the camel into your tent it will eat everything.’”

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