In Flip-Flop, Mazda Commits to Hybrids

Mazda CEO Takashi Yamanouchi committed to producing hybrid gas-electric cars by 2015. Yamanouchi’s made the commitment at last week’s New York Auto Show, revealing the company’s change of direction on hybrids. In a series of prior statements—some only one week ago—Mazda executives had sworn off hybrids as too expensive and too limited for the mainstream auto market.

Mazda Tribute Hybrid

Mazda currently markets a hybrid version of its small SUV, the Mazda Tribute, using technology provided by Ford. Mazda company executives continue to send mixed messages about using hybrid technology.

The Detroit News reported on April 9 that Mazda would achieve its goal of improving the fuel efficiency of worldwide fleet—its goal is a 30 percent boost by 2015—by emphasizing more efficient gasoline internal combustion engines, and ignoring hybrids. Yamanouchi said the Japanese automaker will introduce a new engine that is 20 percent more efficient in a completely new vehicle in 2011. He predicted that hybrids will represent no more than 10 percent of worldwide auto sales by 2015. He told the Detroit News, “We’re focusing on the 90 percent.”

In late March, Reuters reported that Mazda is developing a fuel-efficient clean diesel engine that will also be ready by 2011. “We believe that improving today’s conventional engines at a low cost is the most effective way to get fuel efficient cars to proliferate,” said Setia Kainai, Mazda’s research and development chief. He said Mazda’s 2.0-liter diesel engine would be as fuel efficient as a hybrid.

Mazda’s executives have consistently supported reducing vehicle weight and rolling resistance, and improving vehicle aerodynamics—but the company has flip-flopped on using even the mildest form of hybrid technology, commonly called start-stop. Automotive News reported on March 30 that Mazda will probably not make start-stop available in the United States. “We’re still thinking about what to do,” said Kanai, when asked if his new idle-stop engines will make it stateside. “In America, there’s not much advantage to it.” Kanai added that American-style long-distance, high-speed driving wouldn’t justify the extra costs.

In the same issue of Automotive News, Yuji Hara, Mazda managing executive officer, criticized hybrids as a fleeting “mood” of a “brand society.” Kanai, the R&D chief, admitted that Mazda lacks the funds need to compete on hybrids, and preferred cheaper fuel efficiency measures. “We’re in real trouble,” said Kanai. “It’s a threat. We don’t have the resources to get involved in that kind of competition.”

While it’s hard to keep track of Mazda’s changing view—and there’s a lot of time before 2015—the latest comments from Takashi Yamanouchi, CEO, apparently reflect a new commitment to find the funds to build hybrids, which are considered a critical area of growth in the global auto industry.

Mazda currently markets a hybrid version of its small SUV, the Mazda Tribute, using technology provided by Ford. The two companies have worked together since 1979, but Ford cut its stake in Mazda to 13.4 percent from 33.4 percent last year.

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  • FamilyGuy

    Mazada5 hybrid would be nice to see. Something that seats 6 and could get over 30 MPG is lacking on the market. A single vechile that can take the family with two kids, plus the visiting grandparents out for ice cream after dinner.

  • Jeddy

    Mazda will produce hybrids by 2015. Wow … losers!

  • Jeddy

    30 mpg is chump change. Hydrogen / Electrics in the range of 50-150 should be the target, not a measly 30 …

    Shoot for the stars and accept no substitutions

  • Samie

    Let’s remind ourselves that Mazda is a second tier car company. I don’t know their market share for the U.S. but they don’t have the resources to compete against a Volt or Prius type of car. The approach seems reasonable increase efficiency in traditional engines and let other car companies tweak out technology before getting on board. But… They better hope that hybrid and EV markets don’t develop too quickly that is if consumer preferences change faster than expected.

    A comment I’ve been wanting to say for awhile relates to this story. I think on paper a company like Mazda wants to claim a stake in the hybrid market. Some people say that Toyota doesn’t make money on the Prius but I would argue so what…(if true) Cars like the Prius give consumers a feeling that a brand is progressive, cool, exciting, or even new which helps fight public perceptions that a car brand is boring or bland. This is why Mazda wants to have a hybrid in their line-up, PR is very important and creating excitement about your company is vital because technology changes and the players who fight for market share in the U.S change too.

  • Jeddy

    Toyota doesn’t make money on the Prius?? You can accessorize the thing into the stratosphere. In Canada, you can push it to $35,000 likity split!

    No more excuses for the automakers! They can deliver. They’re just holding off, hoping the cost of fuel dives so they can make the same pathetic cars as the past. A 2015 date is a joke. If they can’t get in the game by 2012, they should go bankrupt.

    New companies, new ideas, new opportunities …

    Evolution is easy. Survival of the best adapted to the given environment. Times have changed.

  • ash

    I don’t know where Journalists get a “Flip Flop” from..

    Mazda have been developing their Hydrogen Rotary for years in the RX-8, that is now leased in Japan (2006) and Norway (the only country that has an exclusive Hydro Freeway with Gas outlets).

    Mazda also have their Mazda 5 Hybrid or sorts, a FWD Rotary engine that runs on Hydrogen and or Petroleum that also charges batteries for the cars electric drive train. So I would call this car a Hybrid, what else is it. This car has also been leased out in Japan and I guess Norway soon.

    The only “clarity” Mazda have made is that they will be making these and other Hybrids for General Sale within the next half decade or so.

    Hybrids are and will be for some time less than 1% of vehicle sales which will remain for some time, plugging in and waiting is not everyones wants in a car, let alone the heavy cost of manufacturing and the expensive replacement of batteries within 10 years of the vehicles life.

    Hybrids are NOT profit makers, just ask Toyota and now Honda, they are expensive “feel good” promotional exercises.

  • Dom

    A Mazda with a clean diesel engine? That would be very cool. Bring it on!

  • Eric

    Too little too late…is the word Mazda Japanese for Chevrolet?

  • Butterfly Mage

    Isn’t Mazda partly owned by Ford? Why can’t they just implement Ford’s hybrid system?

  • Shines

    If in this slow economy the hybrid Ford Fusion doesn’t sell too well Mazda could very well use the technology and sell a hybrid Mazda 6 along with the Hybrid Tribute(Ford Escape Hybrid).
    As far as hydrogen power goes I doubt it will ever be a serious contender compared to electric. Hydrogen needs to be stored under pressure, it leaks very easily (which is especially challenging because it is so volatile) and is expensive to produce.

  • Fred LaBar

    YES. Closest thing right now is minivans(22-24 mph) or new chevy traverse(and look a-likes)
    When is a hybrid minivan coming on market? seems OBVIOUS…. soccer moms are major stop n go.
    large vehicles have space for batteries… whats with these automakers?

  • RKRB

    Hey, howz about a Miata (MX-5) hybrid???? This could be a first — a hybrid 2-seater sports car!

    -Flip- flop, or “welcome to the family??” Failure to flip-flop is an evolutionary dead end. Rather than a “flip-flop” this is instead a changing one’s mind for the better, given the presence of new information. Mazda has never abused anyone’s trust on this issue, which would be a classic case of “flip-flop.” Maybe they could add some “zoomzoom” to the concept.

    -Sorry to hear Ford reduced its stake in Mazda — the two companies seemed to have a decent synergy going.

  • Collin Burnell

    Hey ash,

    Hybrids have been well over 1% for some time now…

    Running about 2.4% so far this year.

  • Collin Burnell

    Oh and the batteries (like most electronics) are getting cheaper, and who’s to say that I can’t replace my Nickel based battery with a Lithiom based battery in the future and get an additional 30% or more boost in fuel economy?

    I agree with Butterfly Mage, why is Mazda doing any Hybrid research on their own? They should be in the ‘labs’ with Ford and make a Mazda version of the Fusion Hybrid or simply license the technology.

    Yea! Still no hybrid minivans? Toyota has had one in Japan for many years now. Odd.

  • Ross Nicholson

    I’m the greatest scientific genius in world history. Hybrid cars need not have separate motors. There are plenty of shafts and pistons that can have electric impetus added within the internal combustion engine.
    Take pistons. Electric pistons would be easy enough to construct. Unroll the motor like a mag-lev train propulsion. It’s how our muscles work (OK, charge lev), and there is nothing in an engine that prevents electric fields from operating. (Of course the polar particles of water would align with the field and oscillate out and back into alignment much like blood exposed to the electric field of the QRS aligns, oscillates out and back again (T wave) in the human heart, but the effects would be slight.) Granted temperatures might require more robust materials, but the spaces inside and around the existing mechanicals could bear small electrical devices of commensal anti-parasitic benefit that could in the aggregate contribute to higher fuel milage.

  • qqRockyBeans

    I agree with 5 hybrid idea that FamilyGuy proposed

    I hope they sell the 6 wagon here again!
    a 6 hybrid wagon would be cool, too
    or at least offer four-cylinder this time!!!!!

  • Jon L

    Don’t count Mazda out of innovation. I flogged my ’80 rx7 for about 70000 miles with only brakes, tire and fluids for normal maintenance an could still pull 20+ mpg on daily driving with the rotary engine. Throw a flat battery pack in the floor of the CX-9 and you would have one sweet crossover hybrid.

  • karosszeria javitas

    I tend to believe that special effect clear coats may come in fashion soon – unlike the hybrid cars which would be more beneficial for our environment. I like Mazda’s movement though – they should keep up the good work and do a lot more on research.

  • highspotter

    In my personal opinion, far from being “a fleeting mood of a brand society”, the hybrid is more of a solid base dressed up in a industrial and technological fresh start. I for one support that. Don`t you wonder if you`ll actually see the hybrids on sale over some Mazda dealers Philadelphia in a couple of years. I bet it`ll get plenty of thumbs-up.