TOKYO: Mazda Motor Corp will continue focusing on driving performance over fuel economy, its chief executive said, even as the Japanese automaker follows bigger rivals in bringing more electric vehicles (EVs) to the market over the coming decade.

As bigger rivals such as Nissan Motor Co plan to roll out more all-battery EVs in coming years, Mazda is betting more on mild hybrids which preserve the feel of gasoline-powered cars while improving fuel economy and reducing emissions.

"We have to be careful in how we say this, but our first priority is on driving performance," Mazda CEO Akira Marumoto told reporters earlier this week.

"We want to improve fuel economy, but above that we want to use (our) new engine to improve driving performance."

A key feature of Mazda's mild hybrids will be its new Skyactiv X engine, unveiled last year after a decade of development. It will be used in the revamped Mazda3 sedan and hatchback models, which will be introduced later this month before going on sale in the United States next year.

The new engine will deliver as much as 30 percent fuel efficiency over its existing Skyactiv G engine, already one of the most fuel-efficient gasoline engines in the market.

In October, the automaker said all of the vehicles it produces by 2030 will incorporate electrification. While 5 percent of its cars will be battery EVs by then, Marumoto said he expected the remainder would mainly be mild hybrids which use its Skyactiv engines.

Mazda has been struggling to keep up with its rivals in developing new vehicle technologies including self-driving cars and EVs as its R&D budget is a fraction of industry leaders Volkswagen AG and Toyota Motor Corp.

The company, known for its unique rotary engine and its MX-5 roadster, has tried to differentiate itself by promising a smoother ride which characterises many of its existing vehicles.

Mazda has partnered with Toyota to pool resources and jointly develop EVs and other new car technologies, but Marumoto said that it had no plans to offer the new engine technology to the company's bigger partner.

"In the end, we are competitors," Marumoto said. -- REUTERS

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