When someone tells you “you’ll save a lot of money,” always ask: “How much will it cost me?” New technology that saves you a lot of money usually comes with a nasty habit: It costs a lot upfront. With a car, you are faced with the dilemma whether to pay Big Car now or Big Oil later. I never forget when I was a young copywriter and I had the task of launching the first diesel powered Golf. I extolled its prudence at the pump and its longevity. Whereupon a grizzled old guy at the advertising department of Volkswagen said: “That thing is expensive. You need to drive 80,000 km to get your money back. By that time, the engine will fall out of the car.” (VW had some corrosion issues back when.) That introspection was triggered by two events: Ed is in Michigan, he has a date with the Volt. His mission: Find out when you will get your money back. Then there’s Mazda, which did something utterly boring, but likewise highly exciting.
Mazda announced today that it has improved the fuel efficiency of its Demio subcompact to 30km per liter, on par with that of hybrid vehicles, and that they will will release the new car in Japan next year. That according to The Nikkei [sub], which also tells us that “the gas mileage will be the best among conventional cars available in Japan, surpassing the previous record of 26km per liter achieved by Daihatsu’s Mira minivehicle and Nissan’s March subcompact.”
What’s much more interesting: The conventional, ICE powered Demio is just a tad less efficient than Toyota’s Prius, which gets 38km per liter. And it’s right up there with Honda’s Fit hybrid, which also gets 30km per liter. (All numbers Japanese standard, non-EPA. Converted via math alone, 30 km per liter would be 70 mpg.)
At the heart of what Mazda calls “SKYACTIV” technology is a direct injection pump gas engine that that gets its improved fuel efficiency out of a frighteningly high compression ratio of 14:1 . I hear you knockin’? No, you won’t.
No price has been named for the car (better known as the Mazda2 outside of Japan,) but a good guess is it won’t cost more than a comparable, ICE powered car. Don’t expect complicated ROI calculations from me. (I won’t step into a previous quagmire.) But one thing is clear: If you can get the mileage of a hybrid at ICE prices, you’ve got yourself a winner. Especially in the booming emerging markets, where cars are paid with cash, and where people are more concerned with upfront cost (and also often are better schooled in math.) And maybe they have the inside track on China’s insidious Rare Earth caper.
While on the topic of Mazda, their Prez. Takashi Yamanouchi said at the sidelines of the presentation that he’s not considering tying up with other automakers, and that “we have agreed with Ford to continue our strategic partnership.” Listen carefully: When it’s down to “strategic partnership,” then it’s down to nothing. A strategic partnership is a business relationship at best, usually, it’s a lot of fluff.