Call it a case of one small automaker inspiring another.
Mazda is by no means a large automaker. With a 1.7% slice of the US auto market and a market cap in the single-digit billions (compared to the tens and hundreds of billions its competitors are valued at), the small Japanese car company doesn’t have the liberty to write huge research and development checks so it can rapidly debut fleets of electrified vehicles like its rivals do.
And that means trouble for Mazda in Europe, where new emissions standards are on the horizon and where the automaker’s average fleet emissions put it on track to surpass those new limits, causing the company to either have to stop sales of more inefficient vehicles or to pay fines to regulators. In order to avoid that, Mazda has done some impressive work reinventing the gasoline engine to make it more efficient using compression ignition, calling the result the SkyActiv-X engine. But innovation like that is only a stopgap when the standards are heavily incentivizing EV production.
What Mazda really needs are electric cars and hybrids, which it currently doesn’t build due to the high investment costs required to get those to market. But that won’t be the case forever because the company will have a new electric car out by next year, according to what Mazda CEO Akira Marumoto told Automotive News Europe during an interview.
Marumoto gave no specific details about the car other than to say the company is building it on Mazda’s own battery electric vehicle architecture (though it’s also working on a new BEV platform with Toyota), but did say the car would be followed by a few plug-in hybrid vehicles set to debut in 2021 or 2022. EVs and hybrids are especially important for Mazda given that the success of its CX-5 is making it hard for the company to achieve better emissions averages, but don’t expect Mazda’s gasoline or diesel engines to go anywhere soon.
On the contrary, Mazda is already at work on the next generation of its SkyActiv X engine (the first generation of which has yet to go on sale) and will use its platform as a base for gasoline and diesel engines (since compression ignition is how diesel engines work anyway).
Marumoto claims that the most efficient combination for a large sedan or small SUV is a hybrid drivetrain combined with a diesel engine, which is a duo the European market can expect from Mazda in the 2020s. Marumoto also made a nod to the rotary engine, saying that Mazda has looked into using the same kind of motor that once powered the RX-8 as a range extender for a BEV, but that the idea is of low priority and has been tabled for now.