Driving to success

MAZDA president and CEO Masamichi Kogai poses next to the company’s new concept rotary-engine sports car “RX-VISION” at the Tokyo Motor Show in Tokyo on Oct. 28. AFP

MAZDA president and CEO Masamichi Kogai poses next to the company’s new concept rotary-engine sports car “RX-VISION” at the Tokyo Motor Show in Tokyo on Oct. 28. AFP

THE 2015 Tokyo Motor Show was full of electric cars, hybrids, and autonomous-driving concepts. But at the center of the Mazda stand was something rather different: a blood-red sports car powered by that rather unfashionable contraption.

 

It was an internal combustion gasoline engine. Not a piston engine, at that, but a Wankel rotary engine that Mazda is hoping to take to the next stage in its design and performance evolution.

 

That Mazda would generate excitement by announcing the return of its RX line of sports cars was a surprise, but completely in character. As was the return of the rotary, the engine that Mazda alone has developed—to success both on the track and in its RX line of sports cars.

 

Mazda has been gaining customers with its sensual styling and SkyActiv fuel-efficiency technology. And the cars drive just as well, or better, than they look.

 

But can they stay on top of their game, in a world that is excited about less-polluting electric vehicles? Is a driver’s car still relevant when the next driver may be a computer?

 

We spoke with members of top management of the resurgent brand about the near future of the company and what they think about current automotive trends.

 

One thing was common among them: their passion for driving.

 

Masamichi Kogai,

president and CEO

 

On sales: Mazda currently has globally balanced sales. We are selling 300,000 vehicles in the United States; 200,000 each in Japan, China and Europe including Russia. In Asean we are selling 100,000 vehicles. We are aiming to increase to 150,000 to 200,000 vehicles in this region.

 

On Asean countries each having its own car production program: Scattering production doesn’t [necessarily] improve efficiency. We have our biggest plant in Thailand, with Malaysia and Vietnam as alternative production sites.

 

Partnering with Toyota: Mazda and Toyota are two different brands. Our areas for collaboration are currently in the infotainment system—specifically, the software for the infotainment system. For engines, we are exploring working together in the areas of hybrid powerplants and software.

 

On the “Made in Japan” brand: Mazda produces in the Asean region, and the quality is the same as in Japan. The engineering and manufacturing teams are sent to new sites to launch the new plant. Locally hired people are taught the skills and the philosophy of Mazda.

 

On entering the luxury segment: The strength of Mazda, and Japanese brands in general, is to provide products that are easy and comfortable to use. In the case of cars, that means great fuel economy at affordable prices, with low defects and high quality.

 

Mazda’s strengths are in making fun-to-drive cars, without unnecessary decoration. In doing so we provide driving pleasure to customers. If we build luxury vehicles, the engineers will start building high-cost cars—expensive cars, and our costs will shoot up.

 

On the trend for car sharing: Mazda’s role in car-sharing is still unknown. Our goal is to come up with good products worthy of ownership. We put the customer first when we produce vehicles.

 

On autonomous driving cars: Autonomous cars are OK for logistics, but some customers want to drive. The cars’ software can intervene for safety reasons, but for Mazda, we still place importance on driving pleasure.

 

On emissions regulations: We can’t comment on the Volkswagen issue, but Mazda currently has SkyActiv-D (for diesel) on its first stage. By 2020, we will have the SkyActiv second generation in place. We want to reduce emissions and make our engines seen cleaner. We will develop lean and cleaner burning combustion engines.

 

 

Masahiro Moro, managing executive officer

 

On alternative propulsion vehicles: Mazda needs eight to 10 years of consistent performance. The current generation of cars is focusing on the internal combustion engine (ICE), and in making a more fuel-efficient ICE.

 

On design: Our design craftsmanship and technology will help Mazda earn a higher brand value.

 

On the trend for crossovers: The crossover segment is growing, and it’s taking over the sedan and five-door class. This will be the trend while the oil price is cheap. The Mazda3 has been Mazda’s top-seller, but the CX-5 is coming close. The CX-5 is in a sweet spot of size and value, and its upscale features are making it more attractive.

 

On MPVs: Twenty years ago, families wanted the minivan. But this has lost its emotional value, and has become more commoditized. In any case, the trip from A to B is not Mazda. If your idea of a minivan is three rows of seats, we have something coming up. (Since then, the all-new CX-9 three-row crossover was announced for a Los Angeles auto show debut.)

 

On regional success: The United States is the most challenging area for us. In Europe we have a 1.7-percent market share, while the Japanese brands have only a 10 percent share in Europe. But in United States, [the] Japanese have 40 percent share, while we have 1.8-percent share. It’s the biggest opportunity for success as well.

 

On racing: The Mazda MX-5 Cup racing series is already running in the United States. We planned 50 units of the Cup car in the first year, and 70 units are sold already. We are planning a global cup to extend the reach to other areas. We wanted to race in the Le Mans LMP2 class in 2013, but the diesel engine was not allowed in that category.

 

Ikuo Maeda, design chief

 

On the RX-Vision concept: The RX Vision is not a true successor to the RX-8 sports car, but something different. We opened all of our secret drawers to get design ideas for the RX-Vision. The RX-Vision is a sports car, and sports cars are the freest form of design.

 

On Kodo-Soul of Motion design: We tried to express the

Kodo design language by capturing a living form. This living design is expressed through the car’s lines in Kodo. For the next generation of Mazda cars, we will express the motion through reflections on the body surface.

 

The design essence of a sports car is its engine and airflow management. For Mazda’s brand, this vehicle is absolutely essential.

 

On creating good-looking cars: We want to create a form to teach anyone with its beauty. The reason for going away from cars is that the young can’t find products to move them. By creating beautiful cars, we want to change the landscape of the city streets.

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