Auto blogMon, 23 Dec 2013 07:58:00 EST
Every story dealing with a new rotary engine from Mazda lands in a different place on the matrix of possibilities between "Coming soon!" and "Never gonna happen!" In 2011 it was speculated that the rotary engineering program would be shut down with the demise of the RX-8, in 2012 the program was still alive and taking lessons from the SkyActiv engines, in August 2013 a Mazda insider said a rotary engine called 16X would be here in two years, in November the CEO said the only way we'd ever get a new rotary is if Mazda could sell 100,000 of them per year. Meaning that, for the moment, you can forget about it.
And yet, last month Mazda was putting journalists in a Mazda2 RE Range Extender, an electric car using a 0.33-liter rotary to power its lithium-ion batteries when the charge runs down. With a 75-kilowatt, 100-horsepower electric motor turning the front wheels, the Wankel generator and its 2.6-gallon gas tank living under the trunk double the range of the electric-only Mazda2 to 250 miles.
There's been talk of using a rotary to assist an alt-fuel vehicle for at least seven years, with Mazda pairing an electric motor with a rotary that ran on gas and hydrogen in a Mazda5 in 2007. Since then, almost all of those stories debating its return or demise also spoke of the oddball motor's advantages, such as compact size and ability to run on various fuels, as an aid in an unconventional powertrain.
Mazda has set an ambitious goal of selling 400,000 units by the end of the 2015 Japanese fiscal year in March 2016, and to do that, it's going to need to take some aggressive action. That means that underperforming members of its 637-showroom strong dealer network are about to get the axe.
The purge won't just be limited to dealers that aren't performing, though. Mazda will seek to consolidate poorly located dealers and build new showrooms in better locations. It still isn't clear how many dealers are being targeted or at what point Mazda would end its cull.
This consolidation of dealers is all part of a one-two punch for the Japanese brand, that will also see increased marketing efforts in 35 key areas. Of those markets, Mazda is placing a special emphasis on New York and LA, although there's not much mention of what other regions are being looked at.
The 2014 North American International Auto Show is right around the corner, which means it's high time we found out which cars and trucks would be finalists for the prestigious North American Car and Truck/Utility of the Year awards.
The finalists - three in cars and three in three trucks/utilities - are dominated by American brands, with two-thirds of the finalists hailing from either General Motors or Chrysler (don't worry Ford, there's always next year), while outliers from Mazda and Acura can be found in each contest. Here now is the list of finalists for the big prizes:
2014 North American Car of the Year:
This past September we reported on Top Gear's destruction of the Mazda Furai, one of the finest concept cars to ever grace an auto show stage. It turns out that the Furai, which was burned nearly beyond recognition at the hands of the British magazine, was actually destroyed back in 2008, and that the entire thing had been covered up for five long years.
Now, a few months after publishing that heart-wrenching composite of a half-baked Furai (shown above), the lads at TG have published their account of just what resulted in a priceless concept car being transformed into a smoking hulk on a Suffolk runway. Click over to read the full story about just what happened, along with pictures of the Furai before, during and after the inferno.
Looking at recent spy shots of the fourth-generation Mazda Miata, it's obvious this sporty little roadster will grow in size compared to the current model, but it's also going on a diet. At the Tokyo Motor Show, Auto Motor und Sport sat down with Mazda executive Kiyoshi Fujiwara, who gave a little more insight into the Miata's redesign.
Fujiwara said that they're aiming for a curb weight of a tonne (metric ton), which is 1,000 kilograms or right around 2,200 pounds, for the next-generation Miata. This would make the roadster at least 300 pounds lighter than the current NC Miata, but still about 200 pounds heavier than the original NA.
There is no indication as to how Mazda will go about removing that much weight from the bigger car, but with as popular as the power retractable hard top (PHRT) model is on the current car, the new Miata may ditch this feature to lose its weight. Improving the power-to-weight ratio appears to be a key goal of the Mazda team, so we also wouldn't be surprised to see a more powerful engine underneath the longer hood.
We can't ever think of a time we've heard anyone accuse the current Mazda2 of being too edgy, which makes reports of a softer design for the next-gen model a little surprising. Autocar reports that when the new 2 debuts next fall, it will have a "softer, more feminine appeal" than the current design.
This description lends a little more credibility to the Japanese magazine image we saw of the car back in July. Aside from Mazda's Kodo-inspired signature face, that picture did reveal softer lines, especially along the side of the car. This softened styling is to appeal to the car's target market, which Mazda's European design chief is reported to have called a "predominantly feminine customer base." Last we heard, though, Mazda might keep the next 2 out of the US due to slow sales.
The 2015 Mazda2 will reportedly ride on a shortened version of the platform used for the CX-5, but Autocar mentions that its platform could also be the basis of a new subcompact crossover - possibly to go up against vehicles like the Buick Encore and the upcoming Honda Fit-based crossover called the Vezel.
Mazda has received a tremendous amount of public and industry praise in the last few years, following up the successful introduction of its Skyactiv technology (powertrain and otherwise), with strong products like CX-5, Mazda6 and most recently, the Mazda3. At the Tokyo Motor Show, Mazda has taken yet another step forward with Skyactiv and the 3, showing the compact (called "Axela" in Japan) with an all-new compressed natural gas engine in the Skyactiv-CNG Concept.
The end result of the Skyactiv-Hybrid is fuel consumption estimated at something like 74 miles per gallon.
Mazda thinks that CNG-powered vehicles are due for an uptick in demand, and the company believes this new powertrain will add valuable breadth to the Mazda3 range. The CNG Concept is actually a duel-fuel vehicle, capable of running on either natural gas or gasoline. In fact, we're told that the high compression ratio (14:1) inherent in Skyactiv-technology gasoline engines makes conversion to CNG particularly simple.
We have some very sad news to report, rotor-heads fans: Don't expect a new rotary-powered vehicle anytime soon. This comes straight from Masamichi Kogai, the CEO of Mazda, which is the only company to ever market a commercially successful rotary-powered automobile in the world. The issue, as it has pretty much always been, is environmental.
While the Wankel rotary engine does indeed make a lot of power in a small, lightweight package, it does so while burning lots of fuel and emitting lots of noxious gases into the atmosphere, at least when running on gasoline. And that means the rotary engine will likely only ever be able to power niche vehicles. And that, in turn, means that it is very difficult to turn a profit on vehicles with rotary engines, particularly for a small automaker like Mazda.
"It has to be a viable commercial proposition. If we are going to adopt it, it has to be a product that can generate at least sales of 100,000 units a year. We have to be able to achieve a profit," said Kogai in an interview with Automotive News. Mazda sold 56,203 RX-7 models in the United States (the automaker's biggest market) in 1986. Sales of the RX-8 peaked in 2004, its first full year on the market, with just 23,690 units.
The recently appointed CEO of Mazda is apparently quite the optimist, claiming that the Japanese brand, renowned for its Zoom-Zoom driving character (and more recently its sleek, refined designs and Skyactiv efficiency), is claiming the company will record its best-ever US sales within the next two years. According to a report from Automotive News, Masamichi Kogai expects Mazda to move 400,000 of its Kodo-styled vehicles in the increasingly competitive US market by March 2016, with the recently launched Mazda3 leading the charge. "It will impacted considerably by the trend of the U.S. industry. But... it's my hope we achieve the record by that time," Kogai tells AN.
The brand is currently targeting 300,000 units by the end of this fiscal year in March 2014. Given that production and sales of the Mazda3 (and consumer awareness of the 2014 Mazda6) is still picking up steam, it isn't a stretch to imagine Mazda, which sold 240,000 vehicles from January to October of 2013, hitting its target.
Along with the overall increase in sales numbers, Kogai is expecting the independent brand to take an even larger slice of the US sales pie, claiming 2.5 percent US market share, improving from its current 1.9-percent foothold so far in 2013. "I think the upper limit may be 2.5 percent for the time being," Kogai told AN, before pointing out, "We don't want to use a lot of incentives. That is not the sales approach we aspire toward."
Mazda has unveiled its latest challenger in the top flight of endurance racing, a diesel-powered prototype that will campaign the inaugural, 2014 Tudor United SportsCar Championship. The new Skyactiv-D-powered car will make its race debut at January's Rolex 24 at Daytona.
"This is the most significant step Mazda has taken towards returning to the global racing stage since our overall victory at Le Mans in 1991," said the director of Mazda Motorsports, John Doonan. That historic racecar, the rotary-powered 787B, has grown to become one of Mazda's many, well-known racers.
More recently, the Japanese brand has been making waves in the Grand-Am series, campaigning RX-8s and, most recently, running diesel-powered Mazda6 sedans in the GX-class. Mazda will campaign two factory-backed prototypes at Daytona. Driver lineups will be announced closer to race day.