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Secret design group plots RX-7 replacement

Mazda president and CEO Hisakazu Imaki: "I think that there are some people who are doing some preparations on RX-7 behind my back." Graphic image: Chris Harris

Mazda Japan starts planning for the next generation RX-7

8 Sep 2004

A SECRET skunkworks within Mazda Japan is developing a replacement for the legendary RX-7 sports car.

The design group is so secret that not even company president and CEO Hisakazu Imaki is meant to know about it.

But Imaki san confirmed when interviewed by GoAuto in Melbourne last week that he is aware of the design work underway.

Imaki san revealed he even supported the work going on, but scotched any suggestion that 21st century RX-7 was a green-lighted program.

Imaki san was in Melbourne for two days for meetings with Mazda Australia management, the national dealer council and dealer principals.

His visit came just days after he clocked up one year in the top job at Mazda, the 61-year-old the first Japanese and Mazda lifer to run the company in years.

"There are numerous people who want to build the RX-7," he said through an interpreter.

"I think that there are some people who are doing some preparations on RX-7 behind my back.

"But I know they are doing it. I am just thinking of pretending that I don’t see what happens."Imaki san said he admired the Mazda workers who were developing plans for a new RX-7, saying it underlined one of his core ambitions to develop the skills and capacities of the company’s staff.

"Unless you have that kind of gumption, it’s going to be difficult anywhere to succeed, and I also want to say that’s part of our people building too," he said.

The original RX-7 was launched in the 1970s. A two-seat rotary coupe, it developed through three generations into a Supercar with astonishing Bathurst production-race winning performance provided by its turbocharged rotary engine.

But along with its performance, RX-7’s cost continued to grow, playing an important role in ever-shrinking sales which led to its demise in Australia in 1999 and the end of production in Japan in 2002.

Imaki san also made a point of stressing how less complicated and cheaper the normally aspirated RX-8 was than the RX-7

Imaki san said the work going on in Japan did not signal a definite return for the master blaster, although rotary power was back in fashion courtesy of the 177kW 1.3-litre Renesis engine in the RX-8 four-seater.

"The RX-7 does not seat four, and there is an issue whether we make it a more pure sports car line," he said. "I think it boils down to whether the market wants a pure sports (car).

"Right now I know the pure sports market is shrunken. In my case it is not right for me to make cars that I like.

"It’s the job of the president to make sure the company makes profit and to provide product that gives joy to customer."Imaki san also made a point of stressing how less complicated and cheaper the normally aspirated RX-8 was than the RX-7.

"The RX-8 relies on the strengths of the rotary engine without any add-ons," he said. "If you open up above it and even though there’s a cover, you can take that off and see the whole engine. You can see terra firma.

"But if you recall the RX-7, there was so much peripheral equipment that you could not see the ground.

"But I think because it is a bare rotary engine, that even though it has less power the features and strong points of the rotary is more stronger on the 8, especially at high speed. The more you press on the accelerator, the more smoothly you can accelerate."If that’s Imaki san’s code for supporting a non-turbo engine for he next RX-7 he’s certainly got plenty of support within the company. As early as January 2003 GoAuto quoted RX-8 program manager Noboru Katabuchi as backing increased capacity through bigger rotors for more performance in a new generation RX-7, rather than turbocharging or increasing the number of rotors.

Turbocharging presented significant emission issues for RX-7, which would present a difficult challenge today.

In other product news, Imaki san: Confirmed a cross-over would soon be built to expand Mazda’s SUV range: “You can rest assured that you do not have to wait so long to launch.” Downplayed any plan for Mazda to build a traditional luxury car larger than the Mazda6.

 Revealed a petrol-electric hybrid Tribute – which shares drivetrain technology with the already on-sale Ford Escape – would soon be launched.

 Extolled the virtue of the company’s new generation of turbo-diesel engines as being suitable for the Australian market, although he did not say when they would arrive. Local execs say it would be 2006 at the earliest.

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