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Mazda CEO Explains Strategy While Simultaneously Breaking the Hearts of Rotary Fanboys Everywhere

2017 Mazda CX-5 soul red crystal - Image: Mazda USA

Mazda has big aspirations for the future. However, its immediate plans don’t appear to include a successor to the RX-8, despite Mazda’s continued development on its trademark rotary engine and other conflicting information.

Instead, CEO Masamichi Kogai says the company is going to focus on its push upmarket while diversifying powertrains and cementing itself as the sporting choice over its rivals.

Speaking to Automotive News with the help of an interpreter, Mr. Kogai explained his vision of Mazda’s more upscale future.

“We want to distinguish ourselves by being a little elevated above the other Japanese or mainstream brands,” he said.

“If the car itself is not attractive, we can’t command a higher price. So, for the Mazda 3, the Mazda 6 and the CX-3, they will all have major updates. And the CX-5 is undergoing a full model change. In that way, we keep improving the models all the time. Instead of just creating a buzz to come see a new design, we enhance the vehicle’s potential in performance and technology. That is something new we are implementing.”

Part of that implementation pertains to the company’s next generation of Skyactiv drivetrains, which include a diesel option on next year’s CX-5.

While the diesel version of the crossover will be coming to the United States, Kogai suspects most diesel sales will continue taking place in Japan.

“In the U.S., diesel is not necessarily the cheaper option. It’s about 8 percent more expensive than gasoline. But compared with high-octane gasoline, diesel is cheaper. We still have to pinpoint where people can find the advantage in buying diesel,” he explained.

Inevitably, Mazda’s partnership with Toyota will produce an electric powertrain too. The company thinks the safest play is to keep EV production at a low-volume and not abandon combustion engines too quickly. Mazda’s Head of Research and Development Kiyoshi Fujiwara asserts that by 2020, “five to ten percent of the market will be pure EV, while the rest will still use ICE. Therefore ICE is [currently] the most important technology in the world.â€�

Kogai’s take seems to be that electrification is inevitable and important for Mazda, especially in the form of its own unique hybrid. The company has long been hinting that the rotary engine might make a return — if not in the hypothetical RX-9, as a range extender for some type of EV.

“We ended production of the RX-8 with the rotary engine,” Kogai stated. “But if we were to restart production of the rotary engine again, we need to make sure it wouldn’t be just short-lived. We need it to meet future emissions regulations. We are still conducting our RD activity to overcome any issues we have with emissions and fuel efficiency.”

When asked if the rotary would see the light of day as a supplemental power source for an EV or as a primary drivetrain first, he said that the zero-emissions vehicle mandate made electrification the clear priority. Kogai didn’t even suggest the rotary as a practical stand-alone option, not even in a possible RX car.

“I think that as a sports car option, the MX-5 1.5-liter or 2.0-liter conventional engine, with its power and acceleration, might be a more exhilarating experience.”

Putting the the final nail into the RX-9’s coffin was his single word response to if there were any plans to introduce a sports car larger than the MX-5.

“No.”

[Image: Mazda]

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