Grille - 2017 Mazda Mazda3 4-Door Sport AutoEnlarge Photo
Mazda is a tiny carmaker on a global scale, producing just 1.6 million vehicles a year.
It competes with four companies (GM, Nissan-Renault, Toyota, and VW Group) that each sell around 10 million a year, as well as numerous other smaller makers still larger than Mazda.
In a world where reducing the carbon emissions from road vehicles is increasingly crucial to stemming the effects of climate change, Mazda can afford to pursue electrification only with partners.
A product plan it released last month shows that in 2019, it will launch the efficient new SkyActiv-X engine, the first high-volume engine put into production that uses homogeneous charge compression ignition or HCCI.
That year it will also introduce a mild-hybrid system, included on SkyActiv-X engines shown as static displays during the 2017 Global Technology Forum it held in August.
Finally, Mazda will launch a battery-electric car—“with and without a range extender,” it says—in 2019 as well, likely as a 2020 model.
Mazda launch plan for next-generation technologies, 2017-2021 and beyondEnlarge Photo
Kiyoshi Fujiwara, Mazda’s senior managing executive officer with oversight of research and development, described that vehicle to Green Car Reports as “an individual top hat" on a platform shared with Toyota.
Japan's largest carmaker has said it will develop a long-range battery-electric vehicle to debut around 2020, at least in part to appease Chinese regulators pushing hard for more plug-in vehicles.
Toyota, long an electric-car skeptic, has touted hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles as the most appropriate zero-emission solution, but those cars require a fueling infrastructure that’s beyond the company’s ability to implement at global scale.
Current CEO and namesake Akio Toyoda now reportedly heads the development team for Toyota's first volume electric car, perhaps indicating the relative recent importance of this project to Toyota.
But as a conservative company, it seeks to reduce risk and increase economies of scale on a car that may well lose money in its first years.
Toyota and Mazda announced in August they would both build a U.S. assembly plant together and expand certain areas of technological cooperation between the two companies—including electric-vehicle technology, plus connected-car and advanced safety technologies.
2020 Mazda 3 prototypeEnlarge Photo
Mazda SkyActiv-X engine results, 2020 Mazda 3 development prototoype, 6-speed automatic transmissionEnlarge Photo
Mazda 2.0-liter SkyActiv-X engine with spark-controlled compression ignition (SPCCI)Enlarge Photo
In other words, with Mazda focusing on far more efficient combustion engine technologies, it will use Toyota’s underpinnings and technical development with a dedicated Mazda body on top.
Asked if that vehicle would use a new model name (e.g. Nissan Leaf) or simply be a powertrain option under an existing and recognized vehicle line (.e.g the upcoming BMW 3-Series electric model), Fujiwara suggested the all-electric model would carry to a new model name.
Plug-in hybrids, on the other hand, he said, would be powertrain variants of existing models with some added hardware.
Mazda is only likely to sell its all-electric car in a few regions, including China and California.
Both have regulations specifying how many zero-emission vehicles a manufacturer must sell, though China’s goals are far more aggressive in the near term than those in the Golden State.
Focus on wells to wheels
Fujiwara said the company will first sell that car in regions that meet two criteria.
First, they must have sufficient electric-car charging infrastructure—but they must also have an electric power grid that’s sufficiently clean.