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.