Brace yourself ladies and gentlemen, because an automaker is taking on one of the American market’s greatest bugbears: size and weight bloat. Mazda’s vehicles have gained 80 pounds on average with each recent redesign, according to Robert Davis, senior vice president of product development and quality for Mazda North American Operations. Davis tells Automotive News [sub] that increases are coming “mostly in larger tires and wheels, and safety equipment,” resulting in a 2010 Mazda3 that weighs 2,868 pounds compared to a 2003 Protege’s 2,634 pounds. And, says Davis, that’s all about to change. He promises “typical” weight reductions of 220 pounds per vehicle on future Mazda models, through a combination of measures. For one thing, dimensional creep is a thing of the past, with some Mazda models scheduled to lose as much as three inches in length.
Improved packaging should help reduce the impact on interior feel, while the use of more light-weight materials should also help decrease overall mass and weight. Though Davis does warn that “carbon-fiber roofs and hoods are great for a BMW M5, but they are not viable in our cost structure.” The weight reduction will not only improve fuel economy between three and five percent, it will also allow the use of more efficient engines without losing Mazda’s trademark sporty feel. And, frankly, it will provide a wonderful example to automakers like Honda who built their brands on light-weight, fun-to-drive cars before succumbing to dimensional and weight bloat over the past decade. Weight is not only the enemy of efficiency, it’s also the enemy of fun. If Mazda is serious about differentiating its vehicles with lower weights (and efficiency numbers on the last two generations of Mazda3s indicate that it probably should), this could possibly just herald a new trend that’s been a long time coming to the US market. Setting concrete goals like a 220 pound average reduction per vehicle is just the kind of challenge to the industry we’ve been looking for.