This article appeared in Forbes Auto: May 23, 2016
Photo Credit: George Peterson
Mazda has always been a brand different from most. It built its image on rotary engines that were fun to drive, but tough to make. Challenges from emissions and fuel economy regulations doomed the rotary early in the 21st century. Production ceased in 2012 with the demise of the Mazda RX-8 sports car. Mazda’s gorgeous Vision R coupe shown at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show demonstrates Mazda hasn’t given up on the rotary, but admits only a small group of dedicated engineers are presently working on it. But the rotary engine is just part of the Mazda story.
The Ford Days to Independence From 1979 through 2009, Ford Motor had an increasing equity stake in Mazda Motor. Starting with 7% stake in 1979, Ford increased its position in Mazda until it had effective control with 33.3% of the company. Mazda and Ford teamed up on several car platforms where Mazda’s design expertise opened the eyes of Ford engineers to new more efficient techniques.
As the Great Recession deepened and Ford was struggling for liquidity, Ford divested its shares in Mazda and the company became independent in 2009. The result was a stand-alone brand with good products, but low volumes. In 2011, Mazda raised $1.9 billion to guarantee its future viability and develop its SkyActiv platform now underpinning its cars and crossover SUVs. With the introduction of the Mazda CX-9 crossover SUV in mid-2016, the transition to SkyActiv is complete.
For Mazda’s 2016 Fiscal Year, the company sold a bit over 1.5 million vehicles world wide and had a net income of ¥134 billion (~$1 billion). Prospects are even better going forward as Mazda entered a technology sharing agreement with Toyota in May 2015.
Repositioning “Zoom Zoom” to “Driving Matters” Now the stage is set for Mazda to reposition itself. In the United States, Mazda wants to be perceived as an upscale mainstream brand similar to Acura. Acura has always seemed like an upscale domestic brand (and not particularly successful), so this positioning may make sense.
One of the first things Mazda has done to facilitate this change is change its advertising tag line from “Zoom Zoom” to “Driving Matters.” “Zoom Zoom” has been around seemingly forever, since about 2000. At first, Mazda’s products did not live up to the “Zoom Zoom” tag line, so now that they do, the tag line is changed to a more mature “Driving Matters”. “Zoom Zoom” is still there, but in a secondary position to “Driving Matters”.
“Driving Matters” fits with the attitude that people who buy a Mazda product are more enthusiastic about driving than buyers of most other mainstream brands. Mazda does not want to sell an appliance – transportation from point A to point B – they want to sell a vehicle with an active, sporty driving experience that their owners embrace.
Mazda Vehicles Deliver More of a Premium Ambiance Along with repositioning the message, Mazda’s products have been achieving higher transaction prices at their dealers. Much of this results from selling a richer mix of vehicles with about 50% of the CX-5 being the upper middle Grand Touring model and the CX-9 having a projected 40% being the Grand Touring model (then combined with the Touring model, Touring plus Grand Touring are expected to be 70% of the CX-9 mix). No longer wanting to be a “cheap and cheerful” brand, Mazda will not be the cheapest in any segment. It wants to be best. Simply, the brand is chasing a better quality of business.
Photo Source: Lincoln Motor Company
Navigator – First Luxury SUV Lincoln launched the Luxury Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) Market in 1997 when it launched the first generation of the Navigator. Navigator was a derivative of the Ford Expedition Full Size SUV and proved to be an instant success. Loaded with the appropriate amount of technology and bling for the time, Navigator hit a chord with upscale families that wanted something more than a minivan or full size SUV. The first Navigator was somewhat tame by today’s standards, but provided the sophistication, size, power and price people coveting this kind of transportation. It took Cadillac two years to respond with the Escalade – a quick-to-market response to Navigator.
A Battle of Bling Between Lincoln and Cadillac The first generation Navigator was to last for five model years (1997 through 2002) when it was replaced by the 2003 Navigator which raised the bar in the American Luxury SUV category. It adopted independent rear suspension which allowed for the rear load floor to be dropped by 7-inches and for a commodious third row seat to be installed. To this day, General Motors full size SUVs have not matched Lincoln’s third row seat package, much less Escalade. Cadillac evolved into a bling-mobile (one Cadillac marketer described the vehicle as having seven layers of chrome). Lincoln responded with a gaudy Navigator in 2007 that seemingly had chrome haphazardly thrown at every bodypanel. While Escalade had a major refresh in 2015 incorporating Cadillac’s vertical LED light pipe daytime running lights in the front, Lincoln freshened the front styling of the Navigator incorporating the clumsy winged grille style that appeared on its vehicles during the decade. Navigator also dropped its V8 powertrain replacing it with a more powerful EcoBoost V6. The lower weight and higher power of the EcoBoost transformed the handling of the Navigator.
But that brings us to the future.
Photo Source: Lincoln Motor Company
Style Evolution Yields a Range Rover Look-Alike The next generation Lincoln Navigator concept has been shown at the 2016 New York Auto Show and it is an absolute WOW. Like Lincoln did in 2015 when they stealthily introduced the Continental concept at New York, the Navigator concept was kept very quiet until its initial reveal. With this new Navigator, Lincoln takes a different tack towards elegance, sophistication and quietness – a Personal Santuary. The new Navigator adopts new Lincoln styling cues like the strongly trapezoidal grille opening, Lincoln logo mesh grille, headlamps accented by LED running lights. The front end is very strong looking. The rear appearance adopts Lincoln’s horizontal full-width taillamp treatment. The bodyside, however, comes across much like a Range Rover with similar accent lines and window graphics. Different, but similar. You might remember Bentley accused Lincoln of plagiarizing the style of its Flying Spur. Might Range Rover make the same complaint with the new Navigator?
Lincoln says the new Navigator is its “most spacious ever”, but the exterior style seems to make it appear a bit less bulky. This is good.
Photo Source: Lincoln Motor Company
The concept is shown with gull-wing doors and “concertina” side steps for easier access. These are certainly there for the concept reveal and will not appear in production.
There have been over 1,800 car brands in the United States auto industry since 1896. Entrepreneurs and enthusiasts saw the American auto industry as a way to make a name for themselves and, hopefully, a lot of money. This set off a wave of industrial Darwinism that continues today. Car brands came and went with startling regularity. Some brands launched and died quickly and are now just a faint memory if remembered at all. It would take a real automotive history buff to remember the Adria, or the Carhartt, or the Hackett. Some more recent brands are still fresh in our memory like Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Mercury, Plymouth, Hummer and Saturn. Today, there are 40 car brands on sale in the United States. Some names are so strong that they keep coming back in one form or another.
Logo Credit: Stutz Motor Car of America
Stutz Sold 35,000 Cars Until Falling to the Great Depression
A once-storied name in the American luxury auto industry still exists – Stutz. Stutz would be 104 years old today if it were still producing cars. They were famous for the Stutz Bearcat and Stutz Blackhawk. Stutz made fast cars for racing and luxury cars for the wealthy. While they were known as “The King of Cars” in the late teens, the company could not make it through the Depression and stopped production at its Indianapolis, Indiana factory in 1935. While Stutz was in business it sold about 35,000 cars.
If you are a reader of Clive Cussler adventure novels, Isaac Bell one of Cussler’s protagonists frequently drives a Bearcat while working as an early 1900s private detective. Cussler, an avid car collector, usually features iconic cars from the past in his books.
Kings of Bling – Excalibur, Stutz, Clenet
In the 1960s and 1970s three of the most flamboyant personal cars were produced – the Excalibur from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the resurrected Stutz fabricated near Turin, Italy and the Clenet from Santa Barbara, California. These were highly styled and high priced personal cars sold to celebrities, royalty and the filthy rich. The word bling had not been coined the way we use it today, but these cars were over-the-top with bling.
Stutz Motor Car of America
Seeing the Excalibur have reasonable success in the late ‘60s (Excalibur sold 3,200 cars from 1965 through 1989), and wanting a strong American name from the past that still resonated among luxury car marques, Stutz Motor Car of America resurrected the name in 1968.
Photo Credit: Stutz Motor Car of America
Renowned Chrysler stylist Virgil Exner designed a new Blackhawk coupe in 1970 based on the Pontiac Grand Prix. In an age where styling excess was de rigeur, Exner’s flamboyant design attracted buyers like Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Lucille Ball. At one point, a Stutz model was the highest priced car in the world. From 1970 through 1995 over 600 cars were produced.
Another flamboyant car that should not be ignored was the Clenet. Clenet made about 430 cars from 1977 through 1982.
Nissan’s luxury brand, Infiniti, is upgrading its two mid-size entries in the middle of their product cycle. This is not unusual these days as carmakers attempt to keep up with new technologies and keep fresh products available to their buyers. Infiniti’s one-two punch comes with new powertrains for the Q50 (nee G35/37) rear wheel drive mid-size sedan and freshened styling for the QX60 (nee JX35) front wheel drive/AWD mid-size crossover SUV.
The Q50 changes target enthusiasts and the QX60 changes target families. Let’s talk about the Q50 first.
Q50 Powertrain Updates Infiniti positions the Q50 against the Lexus IS and the BMW 3-Series. To us, it is closer to the Lexus GS350 in size and ambiance, but priced lower. Q50 looks the same as before. Its changes come in the form of new engines. The top-of-the-line is the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400. What does all that mean? The “400” is for the 400-horsepower twin turbo 3.0L V6 engine. “Red Sport” refers to the red “S” sport badge on the fenders and rear of the vehicle. The Red Sport 400 is very flexible from easily lumping around town in stop and go traffic, to quickly running rural roads. With several drive selections from Eco to Sport+ available, the personality of the car can transform dramatically. In Sport + mode throwing the car around sharp curves over undulating terrain is a blast. A fully loaded Q50 Red Sport 400 should set you back around $55,000 although pricing has not been finalized. About 20%-25% of Q50 mix will be Red Sport 400 models.
Rounding out the new powertrain news for the Q50 is the high volume engine which is a de-tuned version of the Red Sport 400 – a twin turbo V6 with 300-horsepower. This will be on 50%-60% of the volume. The Infiniti Q50 2.0t is powered by an all-new base engine developed with Daimler – a turbo 2.0L 4-cylinder with 208-horsepower. This will be on about 20%-25% of the Q50s sold. The power output of the 4-cylinder seems pretty anemic. Other 2.0L turbo 4s on offer today are more common with between 230 and 240-horsepower. Some even have as much as 270-horsepower. Infiniti says only the basic engine design is from Daimler. All the accessories and systems engineering were by Nissan engineers. The engine is produced in Infiniti’s Decherd, Tennessee Engine Plant.
QX60 Freshening Moderately Extensive The QX60 is Infiniti’s mid-market family hauler. It is in the middle of an SUV lineup that includes the flagship QX80 (formerly QX56), the “urban gorilla” QX70 (nee FX35/45/50). Below the QX60 is the QX50 (nee EX35) and the upcoming QX30 (based on a Mercedes 5-door bodystyle).
The 2016 QX60 looks pretty much the same as the 2016 model, but it does have new front and rear styling that evolves slightly from the 2015 version. The grille and headlamps are new and now de rigeur LED accent running lights are part of the headlamp design. Outside mirror-mounted turn signals are standard. The taillamps and liftgate are new, but look similar to their predecessor. Inside, the seat trim is new with more intricate sew styles. The instrument panel upper is softer and looks more appropriate for luxury brand vehicle. Driver assist technologies abound.
Responding to criticisms about ride control and handling, Nissan upgraded the suspension. While ride comfort was excellent, body lean in cornering was excessive. The update to the suspension yields a vehicle that is more confident feeling, more nimble and lighter on its feet. This is a very positive move forward.
While these updates to Infiniti’s mid-market entries are not earth shaking, they keep the vehicles fresh and up-to-date. The changes to the QX60 are more extensive, but the powertrain changes to the Q50 will get the most attention. Both are good moves.
This article was posted in Forbes.com blog, Friday, February 19, 2016 (http://www.forbes.com/sites/georgepeterson1/2016/02/19/car-owners-select-trump/#6e8407941b81).
“Just the facts, ma’am”, said Joe Friday. Here are the results from a 1,100 respondent AutoPacific national internet survey asking vehicle owners what their political leanings are and who they would prefer for President come November.
The poll is not overwhelmingly scientific. It does not look at preferences based on political affiliation or likelihood to vote. It simply asks who they would prefer for President and does show some very interesting results.
Political Leanings What are the political leanings of car (and truck) owners? About 36% describe themselves as Independent with Ford (33%), Toyota (30%), Honda (24%), Chevrolet (20%) and Subaru (20%) the brands most likely to identify as Independent. About 34% describe themselves as Republican with Ford (27%), Toyota (23%), Chevrolet (19%) the top three. About 25% describe themselves as Democrat with Toyota (30%), Honda (23%) and Subaru (17%) the top three. Libertarians account for about 5% of the sample with Toyota (35%), Ford (31%), Honda (23%), Chevrolet (23%) as their top four brands.
The most “Republican” brands are Lexus (45%), GMC (43%), Infiniti (39%), Jeep (36%), and Audi (36%). The most “Democrat” brands are Tesla (37%), Fiat (35%), and Land Rover (32%)
Trump Wins Overall Among the presidential candidates of any party, Donald Trump is the top preference (24%), followed by Hillary Clinton (18%), Bernie Sanders (17%), Ted Cruz (9%), and Marco Rubio (7%). The remaining candidates are all under 5% with Chris Christie, and Carly Fiorina having pulled out of the race after the New Hampshire primary.
Brand Owners Most Likely to Select… The owners of brands most likely to select Donald Trump are GMC (31%), Mitsubishi (31%), Scion (30%), Ford (25%), Jeep (25%), Buick (25%), and Cadillac (25%). No FIAT owners would prefer Trump. The brands most likely to select Hillary Clinton are Mercedes-Benz (25%), Infiniti (25%), Tesla (25%), BMW (24%), Cadillac (24%). The brands most likely to select Bernie Sanders are Fiat (44%), MINI (41%), Tesla (35%), Volvo (32%), Mazda (28%), Volkswagen (28%), Scion (27%), Subaru (27%), Toyota (25%).
Trump Profile Those vehicle owners who prefer Donald Trump are likely to own domestic mainstream brands. About 57% have a college education and about 36% have a household income over $100,000. Contrary to other surveys Trump does well among the youngest vehicle owners capturing about 33% aged 18-29 years old. The lowest preference for Trump is among vehicle owners in their 30s at 15%. All other age groups prefer Trump in the 22%-28% range.
Clinton Profile Brands with stronger preference for Hillary Clinton tend to be luxury brands. About 76% have a college degree and about 45% have a household income over $100,000. Preference for Clinton by age group is strongest among the 60-69 age group with 22% preferring Clinton – about equal to Trump in that age group. Lowest preference for Clinton is among the youngest with just 9% of the 18-29 year old group preferring her.
Sanders Profile Bernie Sanders attracts both mainstream and luxury brands. The owner profile of these brands suggest a more liberal mindset. About 60% have a college degree and about 35% have a household income over $100,000. Strongest preference for Sanders is among 30-39 year olds (26%), among 18-29 year olds (21%) and among 40-49 year olds (21%). This confirms Sanders preference among younger vehicle owners.
There are many polls being cited during these early weeks of a long, long election cycle. Results are all over the map with Trump generally on top for the Republican nomination followed by Ted Cruz. In the race for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders is putting up a surprisingly strong anti-establishment fight. It will be interesting to refer back to these results in November to see who will be our next President. If the vote were held today among owners of cars and trucks, the winner would be Trump by a narrow margin.
Check most of the boxes needed to win in the highly competitive compact car segment and the 2017 Hyundai Elantra does not miss many chances to excel. Following the mantra of “democratization of technology” Elantra has most of the high tech infotainment and technology features available. When you pop for them all, the retail price is $26,750. This is a lot for a compact car of a decade ago, but not bad for the fully loaded Limited model of the all new Elantra. For those not wanting or needing the full equipment load, the starting price is around $17,000.
Good Ease of Use For a person reasonably familiar with today’s cars, the Elantra is easy to figure out. It might not pass the rental car test where you should be able to start the car, turn on the headlights, adjust the radio and air conditioning system on a stormy night at Hertz, but it comes close. Easy to understand and use are the keynotes of Elantra design.
Created to provide a destination for buyers wanting to downsize, Elantra has all the features with the possible exceptions of cooled seats and adaptive cruise control that brings you to a full stop and then proceeds when traffic moves forward. For buyers wanting to upgrade, everything is there. For a price.
Easy to Drive Elantra is quiet, solid, comfortable. It handles very well on aggressive back-California roads. It is acceptably fast. It has an automatic 6-speed transmission with its base 147-horsepower 2.0L 4-cylinder engine. (There is an eco model available with higher fuel economy powered by a 128-horsepower 1.4L 4-cylinder turbo mated to a 7-speed EcoShift dual clutch transmission with limited feature availability).
The interior package is similar to a mid-size car of the prior generation (it is rated mid-size by the EPA). In fact, Elantra has about the same interior size of a Cadillac CTS and is bigger than a BMW 3-Series or Audi A4. Interior materials are a notch above what used to be expected in this class of car. The upper surface of the instrument panel is soft, but adjacent materials are hard while pretending to be soft. The trunk is large, but accessed through a small opening due to its relatively fastback design.
Comprehensive Feature Availability There is a 4.5-inch multi-color display between the gauges in the instrument cluster. In the center stack, there is either a 7-inch or 8-inch monitor depending on features selected. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto interfaces are avaiilable. To enhance the sound of your music there is Harman’s Clari-Fi Music Restoration Technology. Nice… very comprehensively done.
No Longer Head-Turning Elantra is good looking, but not head-turning like its predecessor. In the rear view, Elantra gets lost in traffic. Its distinctive front view is highlighted by its large trapezoidal grille opening and LED accents on higher trim models. Functional outboard vents in the front fascia direct air over the front wheels and help aerodynamics. Vertical LEDs accent the outboard vents in top of the line models. But overall, like the larger Hyundai Sonata, Hyundai has become more timid with its new compact car entry.
Elantra GT Coming Coming in Fall 2016 is the Elantra GT with a 200HP 4-cylinder turbo and distinctive front and rear styling and unique interior trim. The GT model will have a DSG
Bentley Motors of Crewe, England has begun production of the 2017 Bentley Bentayga and vehicles will begin arriving in the United States in May, 2016. Ho Hum, just another SUV for an overstuffed market, right? Not so. The Bentayga is a very, very special piece of work.
Meant to Be Expensive and Is Based on the Audi Q7 platform that will also bring us the next generation Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne, the Bentayga is the most expensive and most powerful SUV available. Starting at $229,000 the Bentayga is fully loaded with all the comfort, convenience and safety features you could want. If you want the bespoke Mulliner picnic set from Linley, it will set you back another $28,000. For another $28,500, you can have carbon fiber body pieces like the rear spoiler and rear view mirror covers. Contrasting piping on the seats is $2,110 and the rear seat entertainment system is a bit over $7,000. A typical Bentayga will go out the door at around $275,000 with an adequate load of options. During a drive experience in Palm Springs in early February, the highest priced version I drove was $307,000.
Technological Tour de Force While the price of the Bentayga is what most people will be talking about, the vehicle itself is very, very high spec. Powered by a new 6.0L twin turbo W12 engine, the horsepower is rated at 600HP, but the torque is huge at 663 lb-ft. Mated to a ZF 8-speed automatic transmission, a 0-60 mph time of 4.0 seconds is achieved. For those with no speed limits to worry about, top speed is 187 mph. The full time all wheel drive system is mated with Bentley Dynamic Drive Control; a suspension system that has 4 settings as base or eight settings with the All Terrain Specification for any road or terrain condition. The key to this dynamic system is a 48-volt electrical supply for the drive system’s electronics. During a demonstration at the Chuckwalla Valley Raceway to the east of Palm Springs one lap using “comfort” was fast, but there was more body roll than desired and the throttle response was a bit anemic. The next lap shifted to “sport” mode and the personality of the vehicle changed dramatically. Throttle response was instantaneous and the suspension seemed to invite you to dive into the corners more aggressively. After four laps (not enough), grins for all.
Dune running with the Bentayga at Imperial Dunes near Glamis, California and rock climbing at Cahuilla Creek, it was possible to experience what almost no Bentayga owners ever will. The vehicle is supremely capable, but hugely expensive and not likely to be exposed to the kind of treatment off road in sand, mud, or rocks. Repairing the all aluminum body would be a bit expensive. But, it is clear the Bentayga can handle about anything that can be thrown at it on and off road. A truism holds that a vehicle in this class will not be taken off-road until the third or fourth owner.
Interior The interior is available in 15 colors (the exterior color choices are 17 base paints expanding to 90 hues with extra cost), but of course it is a Bentley. If you want to afford it, they’ll trim your interior in crocodile leather or rattlesnake skins. The seats are trimmed in a traditional Bentley style with diamond quilted hide and smooth leather. The seats are extremely comfortable and provide good support when cornering. The seating position is more car-like than in many sport utilities. You have to step up a bit higher and you are sitting a bit closer to the floor than in other SUVs that have a more command-of-the road seating position. Not uncomfortable, just different.
Driving Driving the Bentayga, it is not immediately obvious that there is 600HP under the hood. The engine is smooth and silent. It has a stop/start feature for improved fuel economy and cylinder deactivation when under light loads. All of this is seamless except for the occasional shudder away from a stop. On twisty roads the vehicle seems a bit ponderous and very heavy. Using the “custom” setting in the driving mode selector you can select a lighter steering feel that should make the vehicle seem lighter on its feet. All of its power and torque comes on immediately when passing. Floor it, whoosh, you are by and the folks you passed are watching your taillights fade into the distance.
The Achilles Heel One of the most critical areas in any new vehicle is the HMI or human machine interface. AutoPacific’s research proves it is extremely difficult to get this right and more than often a manufacturer has gotten it wrong. As part of the Volkswagen Group, it would be expected that the parts bin would have given Bentley access to state-of-the art navigation systems and interfaces. Bentley’s director of whole vehicle engineering stated “Luxury should always be simple.” We agree, but the Bentayga interface is very busy and confusing. The 8-inch screen in the center stack is already a bit small and looks outdated for a 2017 model year vehicle. The graphics are extremely busy and hard to decipher. Changing radio stations is a several step process and includes using a graphic slide on the touch screen monitor to scroll for stations. We were driving prototypes, so sometimes there are glitches, in the vehicle we were driving the navigation system had the direction icon wandering all over the screen except where we were. The smaller screen between the speedometer and tachometer and head-up display saved the day. They were on target.
Business Bentayga promises to be Bentley’s top selling vehicle. For the past three years, Bentley has sold just over 10,000 vehicles worldwide. The $1.3 billion investment in Bentayga adds capacity for 5,000 more units annually. The United States should get between 25% and 30% of the production or between 1,250 and 1,500 units per year. Wolfgang Durheimer, CEO of Bentley, says he hopes to be able to expand that capacity in short order. The order books for 2016 are already full and waiting times are six months to a year.
Next Bentayga launches with top-of-the-line features. Next comes a plug-in hybrid version mated to a 6-cylinder engine. That is followed by a V8; likely the 500HP twin turbo V8 found elsewhere in the Bentley lineup. There may be a 7-passenger interior in the works for families wanting more carrying capacity. A fastback Bentayga (ala BMW X6) may be in the works as is a smaller 2-seat sports car. The Bentley Boys are busy.
2004 was the year Usher had some of his biggest hits in the music world. It was also the year 3 Doors Down had their hit “Here Without You”. If that doesn’t ring a bell for you, 2004 was also the year that the Nissan Titan came out. You probably forgot about that one though. 2004 was also the year where Ford had the 6.0L Powerstroke V8 diesel with 325 HP and 560 LB-FT of torque.
Fast forward to 2015 and the Biebs and Adele are rockin’ the charts and Nissan FINALLY has something Titan related to talk about. Unlike Bieber, Nissan wants you to remember this truck: The 2016 Titan XD. With 310 HP and 555 LB-FT of torque from a V8 Cummins, the 2016 Titan XD picks up where Detroit left off. The Titan XD should be pegged as the spiritual successor to the heavy duty pickups of 2004.
The arms race power between Ram and Ford has amounted to pickup trucks that can tow over 30,000 pounds. Besides the need for a CDL to tow that much, that is a lot more truck than most people need. What if Nissan took the best of 2004 and the best of 2015 to bring a pickup that isn’t overkill in the power department at a more reasonable price than that of a diesel Super Duty F-250 or Ram 2500? The Titan XD is the pickup equivalent of a square peg in a round hole. It just doesn’t match up with anything else out there. Not a bad problem to have in a hyper competitive market.
Summing up a valuable trip to Japan with Mazda for the Tokyo Motor Show takes only a few words or phrases – fun to drive, Zoom Zoom, SkyActiv, Innovation, KODO, Monotsukuri, rotary
Fun to Drive a Key Strategy Interviews with top Mazda executives at the Tokyo Motor Show reinforced their commitment to producing vehicles that are fun to drive from the get-go. This is a key difference for the small Japanese automaker. Mazda wants to “refresh the heart and soul with the joy of driving”. Mazda North American Operations’ “Driving Matters” tag line is serious.
SkyActiv Yields Substantial Profit Improvement Mazda has targeted its product development resources at its SkyActiv flexible production system that has yielded significant weight reductions, body rigidity improvements and engine performance improvements. SkyActiv is the result of a complete re-thinking of how automotive product development should work and was funded by a $2 billion stock offering in 2012 combined with another $0.6 billion in subordinated loans. Using common architecture, the same designs, parts and processes in its variety of vehicles, Mazda has substantially improved its per unit profitability. New product development costs are a fraction of what they were previously.
SkyActiv engines – SkyActiv-G (Gasoline) – SkyActiv-D (Diesel) are recent developments that both have compression ratios of 14.0:1. High for a gas engine and low for a diesel. While the star of the Tokyo Motor Show was the RX-Vision featuring a SkyActiv-R (Rotary) engine, the rotary is only a dream at this point with a small team of 50 engineers working to solve fuel economy, emissions and reliability challenges. Present engines are Stage 1 of Mazda’s powertrain development progress. Meeting future emissions and fuel economy challenges will come in two further stages with Stage 3 complete sometime in the 2020-2025 time frame.
Mazda is committed to the internal combustion engine and by 2020 90% of its powertrains will still be internal combustion engines but will be modified with hybrid, plug-in hybrid and idle-stop technology to meet regional requirements. There will be little reliance on EVs except where required by regulations. When these advanced technologies are required, Mazda likely will draw on its comprehensive technology sharing agreement with Toyota. Even when using Toyota technology, Mazda will maintain its uniqueness with in-house systems engineering.
KODO Design Brings Human Touch Where Computers Have Taken Over Mazda’s KODO design language has now found its way onto all Mazda’s in production, Mazda is striving for uniqueness. In fact, Mazda is proud that its solutions will be uncommon in an auto industry that has become commoditized.
Mazda’s Design Chief, Ikuo Maeda, says that the company begins its designs using traditional design methods like renderings by hand and hand-sculpted clay models. He contends that mainstream carmakers using computer-aided designs yield styles that are too often reminiscent of each other. At a distance, it is difficult to tell one mid-size car from another for instance. Mazda’s KODO designs try for a unique play of shadow that changes with lighting and perspective.
Autonomous Driving and Mazda Mazda’s CEO, Masamichi Kogai, does not dismiss driver assistance technologies or autonomous driving cars out of hand, but clearly is a strong believer in Mazda’s fun to drive attitude. He says driving keeps a person young, alert and agile. This attitude was a central part of the presentations by and conversations with every Mazda manager we came in contact with. The consistency was refreshing. Passion for cars and enthusiasm for driving is Mazda’s litany. So, where does autonomous driving come into the picture for Mazda in the future? Autonomous technology should take over if the driver has an issue that would impede the safe operation of the vehicle. Autonomous technology would steer the vehicle safely to the side of the road where help could be summoned.
That said, Mazda is competitive in the driver assistance technology it offers today: smart brake support, active LED headlamps, pre-collision throttle control both forward and in reverse, driver attention alert, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, radar cruise control, lane keeping assist and lane departure warning.