Mazda to fight back with high technology and more frugal engines

September 13, 2011 By John McCormick –

Beset by fierce competition and the effects of the Japanese earthquake, Mazda Motor Corp. has hit bumps in the road, especially in the US market. But Mazda CEO and president Takashi Yamanouchi is confident he has the right strategy, high technology and new products to put the company back on track.

At this week’s Frankfurt auto show, Mazda is showcasing the first fruit of its so-called Skyactiv technology process, with the world premiere of its new CX-5 compact crossover. Skyactiv focuses on advanced engine technology, light weight construction and an emphasis on driving dynamics, “It’s environmentally friendly as well, or as we put it, sustainable zoom-zoom,” notes Yamanouchi, referring to the company’s marketing slogan.

Eventually all automakers will have to step up to meeting new environmental standards, says Yamanouchi. “What matters is what comes after that. We want to be ahead of the pack in terms of driving dynamics.” Yamanouchi argues that while hybrids and electric vehicles are necessary, consumers will continue to want to enjoy the thrill of a combustion engine. “They want to feel the fun of giving a car full throttle,” he adds Skyactiv technologies include new engine designs – focusing on higher compression gasoline and lower compression diesel powerplants – as well as light weight construction. “Our former parent (Ford) was amazed that we could lose 100 kgs of weight from our vehicle without resorting to expensive materials such as aluminum,” says Yamanouchi. “And we are aiming to lose another 100 kgs.”

In the CX-5 the increased efficiency of the higher compression gasoline engine results in CO2 emissions of 119 gms per km versus typical output of 150-170 gms in that class of vehicle. And fuel consumption is at just 4.5litres per 100km (52.2mpg).

In terms of diesel powerplant, the move to low compression designs means the engine blocks can be lighter and the motors can be built on the same production lines as gasoline motors. “This helps with our profitability and overall we can improve revenue with this new technology,” notes Yamanouchi.

Long-standing diesel manufacturers such as Volkswagen are too conservative to shift to low compression designs, he adds, and they are worried about starting issues, a problem Mazda engineers have solved, he claims.

Further down the road, Mazda engineers are already looking at the post Skyactiv phase with new, high efficiency gasoline engines planned for 2016 which will have compression ratios of 20 to one, versus 14 to one today.

Compared with much larger automakers like Toyota and Honda whose products Yamanouchi describes as ‘ordinary’, Mazda will continue to be a relatively small volume player on a global scale. “We are not going to chase down every market but we will distinguish ourselves from the rest by our technology and driving dynamics,” says Yamanouchi. “By defying convention we can be successful.”