Tokyo Motor Show:

Mazda – Zoom Zoom is Alive and Well

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07_deign_LSumming 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.


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Mazda’s Rotary Dreams – RX-Vision

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Heart of Mazda  The rotary engine is the “Heart of Mazda”, but unfortunately the company does not have a rotary engine in production now and may not in the future.  The last rotary engine was in the Mazda RX-8 which was dropped in 2012.  The rotary in that car could not meet the tougher emissions standards being adopted around the world, so the car and engine are history for the time being.  Today, a group of 50 Mazda engineers continue to try to break the code of rotary engine emissions, fuel economy and reliability – all very tough challenges.  With such a small group, likely with a limited budget, it seems like the hope for a rotary engine anytime in the future is dim.

Mazda executives mean it when they say the rotary is the “Heart of Mazda”.  Back in the late ’50s and early ’60s, the Japanese government was thinking of consolidating its automotive industry and Mazda was in the cross hairs.  Mazda likely would have been folded into Toyota or Nissan.  To demonstrate that Mazda deserved to remain independent the company bought the license for the rotary engine from NSU in West Germany in 1960.  Dozens of other companies licensed the technology as well, but Mazda was the only company to successfully bring the engine into production.11_RX-VISION_L15_RX-VISION_L

RX-Vision  That did not, however, prevent Mazda from displaying the RX-Vision concept car at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show.  Widely considered to be the star of the show, the dramatically styled coupe  uses a rotary engine to achieve a very low hood height.  Using the latest evolution of Mazda’s KODO design language, the RX-Vision has an extremely long hood with the cabin positioned way to the rear. The proportions and scale are surprising from a company like Mazda.  In fact, the size and proportions hearken back to the days of the Japanese supercar race with the Toyota Supra, Nissan 350ZX, Mitsubishi 3000GT and the last Mazda RX-7.  That was an era when each Japanese company was trying to out-do the other with higher and higher spec sports cars.

The RX-Vision is a sculpture in “soul red” a paint developed to accentuate the flowing lines of the car.  Made to take advantage of shadow depth the color is vivid and head-turning.  The color also makes the car almost impossible to photograph and even the professional shots used here don’t do the RX-Vision justice.  It is a strikingly beautiful concept that likely will never see the light of day – at least in its present form.


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2009 Mazda6: Frankfurt and Tokyo Introductions Preview U.S. Model

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Zoom Zoom Evolution
It was back in 2001 that Mazda started blasting auto-show attendees and innocent TV watchers with the now-famous zoom-zoom theme. Mazda has remained true to Zoom-Zoom in the intervening years, and the second generation of the first Zoom-Zoom cars are starting to arrive. The Mazda2, not sold in the States, led the evolution this past summer. Mazda’s mid-size sedan (and five-door hatchback and wagon) entry is next, known as the Mazda6 outside of Japan and as the Atenza inside. Though U.S. sales don’t begin until summer 2008, the exterior shown at the recent Frankfurt and Tokyo auto shows, pictured below, is close to what we’ll see then.

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Mazda Atenza Sedan, Tokyo

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Mazda 6 Hatchback, Frankfurt

What we likely won’t see are the wagon or the five-door hatchback, though these bodystyles continue for other markets. U.S. mid-size car segments are dominated by sedans, with a few coupes here and there. For the 2008MY, Mazda gave up the wagon version of the 6, Dodge will drop the Magnum for 2009MY, and Chevrolet gave up the five-door hatchback/wagon-type Malibu Maxx with its 2008MY redesign. Mazda sold fewer than 10,000 wagon Mazda6s in any given year it was available, compared with well over 50,000 sedans annually.
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Mazda Atenza Family

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Mazda 6 Family

The job of the new Mazda6, according to Mazda, is to continue to deepen and evolve Kizuna, the emotional connection drivers feel with the 6. The new face is evolutionary but strong follow-up for a car that was as well received as this the first time around. Kizuna, for Mazda6, embodies three core values. Mazda wants the 6 to offer an emotional and sporty driving experience that creates a oneness between car and driver, to offer an exclusive experience through a comfortable space and high-quality craftsmanship inside, and finally to offer an “insightful package” that balances the first two elements and incorporates logical, well-thought-out, and easy-to-use driver interface and storage areas. Based on our limited show-floor time, Mazda looks to have created a 6 (and Atenza) with the kizuna they are looking for.
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Mazda 6 Sedan


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Suzuki Kizashi and Kizashi 2: A Brand Looking to Grow

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Concepts at Frankfurt and Tokyo Foreshadow Suzuki’s Mid-Size Intentions.
The Kizashi at the 2007 Frankfurt show and the Kizashi 2 a month later at the Tokyo motor show, according to Suzuki, “illustrate Suzuki‘s progress toward developing a D-segment entry.” For American buyers, those are cars similar in size to the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, and Hyundai Azera. Suzuki’s GM-Daewoo-supplied Verona tried to compete here, but was not a particularly good example of a family sedan, expensive for the Suzuki franchise, and it was dropped from the range after a short sales run in the USA.

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Among the interesting elements of these two international concept cars is that both carry a wagon bodystyle; Suzuki is due to show a third development next year in the United States and it would be a good bet that that car is a sedan and closer to what the production vehicle will be. Suzuki is well aware of the need for the production car to at least include a sedan, having indicated that they are planning a new flagship sedan, despite theses wagon concepts. In the States, four-door sedans dominate car segments. Few wagons survive for long in the cutthroat U.S. mid-size market, and those that do sell a fraction of their sedan counterparts. Wagons fare much better in international markets, where buyers did not take SUVs to heart quite as deeply as Americans. Simply, in the USA, SUVs killed the idea of a conventional station wagon.
The Kizashi 2 in Tokyo takes more aggressive, nearly SUV cues, compared with the sleek Kizashi, but it is still a wagon. Suzuki is looking for a D-segment entry that focuses on status and signals the maturity of the brand.
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2009 Nissan GT-R: The Wraps Come Off Nissan's Supercar

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Nissan pulled the cover off the long-awaited GT-R at the Tokyo motor show. This 473HP (480PS), all-wheel-drive coupe promises to be a monster on the road for those willing to part with its mid-$70,000 price next summer. The transmission is a BorgWarner six-speed dual-clutch setup, and if it’s as good as Audi’s you might not even miss the old days of clutch-pedal shifting.

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Pricing in Japan starts the equivalent of about $67,500, where it is offered in three trim levels; these trim levels are primarily organized around features, as the GT-R offers only one powertrain setup. In the States, Nissan’s most expensive product is likely to start in the mid-$70,000 range. For perspective, the 2008 Corvette Z06 (505HP) has an MSRP of $71,000 and the 2008 Mustang Shelby GT500 Cobra an MSRP of nearly $43,000. Neither of those offer AWD and the Vette only has seats for two, but the GT-R’s interior and fit/finish needs to be outstanding to help support the price point they are looking for. Being the legend it is, it won’t be a difficult sell its first year. Beyond that, buyers need to see what they’re getting for $75,000, and 473HP and all-wheel drive might not be enough for this to be considered a strong value.
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BMW M3 Sedan Returns to BMW Lineup

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2002 Reincarnated, M3 Brings Back a Four-Door
September and October brought plenty of BMW news, all leading up to a hot spring/summer 2008 for BMW dealers. The X6 Concept and X6 ActiveHybrid Concepts shown at the 2007 Frankfurt auto show, previewing a vehicle due by the end of next year, and the show was the backdrop for the formal introduction of both the M3 coupe and the new 1-Series coupe. Also in Frankfurt, a 1-Series convertible was confirmed, with initial photos released shortly afterward. If that wasn’t enough, the M3 sedan returns with a worldwide introduction at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show. Just to keep you interested, here are the first photos of the M3 sedan. See a following story for photos of the new 1-Series convertible.

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2009 Nissan GT-R: Nissan Teases Next Year Entry

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Though the Tokyo Motor Show is still a few weeks away and the buzz of the Frankfurt auto show isn’t over, Nissan is whetting the appetite for their main announcement this year, the production GT-R. Announced today were some minimal facts and one photo, while at the same time GT-R’s own website (www.gtrnissan.com) went live. The website, though not chock full of data on the new car just yet, does give a good history lesson for those not necessarily up to speed on the various Skyline GT-R gems that led up to this generation. A longtime favorite of gamers in Gran Turismo and enthusiasts in right-hand-drive countries like Japan and the U.K., for the first time the GT-R will be found on U.S. shores.

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With this generation, Nissan drops “Skyline” from the hot coupe’s traditional name, keeping only GT-R. Though Nissan considered selling this race-ready rocket through Infiniti dealers, in the end they opted for keeping its historic Nissan badge. The price for the Japanese market was among the few details announced today. Starting from “around 7.8 million yen” at home, using xe.com‘s conversion tool today, means a base price in the $67,500 neighborhood. On the expensive side for any Nissan, this price point may ensure exclusivity as much as its expected low volumes will. The GT-R (expected to offer a twin-turbo engine with 380-420HP) will compete with everything from the Chevrolet Corvette Z06 ($71,000), Audi RS4 ($70,000), BMW M Coupe ($51,875) or upcoming fourth-generation M3, and even personal-use toys like boats.
Keep reading for Nissan’s official press release, and a couple photos of the 2005 concept.


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Nissan GT-R On Its Way to Dealerships – Out of Video Games

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Nissan GT-R Comes to the States
Video racing games and word-of-mouth have elevated prior generations of the Nissan Skyline GT-R to iconic status, though the entry has not yet been offered in the States. This finally changes with the new GT-R. Though Nissan looked long and hard at bringing the GT-R to the States through the Infiniti channel, tradition won out. At the 2006 New York auto show, Nissan announced the 2009 Nissan GT-R will arrive in North American Nissan dealers in spring 2008. A concept version was shown at the 2005 Tokyo Motor Show. AutoPacific and VehicleVoice correspondents were there to see it, and here’s how it looked on Nissan’s home-turf stand.

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GT-R Was Almost an Infiniti
Before the announcement, speculation reported the car as both a Nissan and an Infiniti. The primary benefit for putting the car in the hands of Infiniti dealers was the luxury brand experience and that Infiniti dealers are better-equipped to deal with customers looking for a relatively expensive, high-end sports car. Nissan has the 350Z, which comes with a base price just above $40,000 when the convertible is selected. The production GT-R is likely to play in a price range closer to Chevrolet Corvette and Dodge Viper.
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Based on the same platform that spawned the Nissan 350Z, Infiniti G35, and Infiniti FX SUV, the GT-R promises to capable of taking on the likes of the Lexus SC430 and Cadillac XLR. Styling is distinct from the G35/Skyline to help enable dramatically different positioning.
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MINI Traveler Concept: Laughing All the Way to the Bank

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If I hear another auto executive say that the B Segment is about explode I think I’m going to climb into the clock tower. The business plan goes like this. Exploding fuel prices will force all right thinking individuals to jettison their gluttonous SUVs and sprint down to the auto dealership to purchase more economical vehicles. Further increasing the prospects for success is a waiting herd of Gen Y new car buyers who are dying to drive a brand new cramped penalty box. The reasons that neither of these will happen are obvious. The former group needs utility and the later group needs cash.
While we will certainly get an increase of offerings in the segment, fuel prices and a demographic subset will not be the reasons for success for any entry into this segment. Unlike Europe, the US is not dominated by six-dollar gallons of gas and streets designed for horses. VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) research indicate the B Segment will only grow if a large portion of its entries fit the bill for US consumer acceptance.
The success of MINI in the US has led many to think that the segment is ripe, and that recent spikes in fuel prices are bound to give it stellar growth. The evidence is clear, however, MINI has succeeded with product. Product that inspires passion. Go figure. You only need to look at the Toyota Echo to understand why even B Segment buyers want some passion.
MINI has also identified that fact that there are only so many middle aged buyers who will pay 40% more for a vehicle that lacks the basic utility needed for everyday use. Passion starts the fire. The mind then takes over.
What will add to the prospects for this segment are vehicles that squeeze as much utility as possible into the sheet metal of a vehicle that inspires passion. Enter, the MINI Traveler Concept.


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