Ask the Best and Brightest: Can Mazda Catch Up on Hybrid Tech?
It’s not an academic question: if your answer is yes, Mazda has a $1.1B share offering it wants you to participate in. Now that Ford has reduced its stake in Mazda, the Japanese automaker is finding itself short on all kinds of hybrid and EV development. In fact, Mazda’s planned offering will dilute Ford’s share even further, to 11 percent. Automotive News [sub] reports Mazda’s plan is to use the money to improve fuel economy by 30 percent by 2015 mainly by improving its internal combustion engines, gradually adding electric components such as a hybrid system. However, isn’t promising to offer a first hybrid (let’s pretend, as most of the world has, that the Tribute Hybrid never happened) by 2015 a bit like a TV company finally offering a flat screen within the next five years? Has Mazda dallied to long with hydro-rotary nonsense, or is Mazda’s Hail Mary worth betting on?
Mazda should stay away from the Prius market. The geeky hybrid tech market is a niche market of people who not so much want to save money on gas but who want to make a statement about doing their part in what they perceive to be our greater collective environmental responsibility. Nothing wrong with that (although the environmental advantages are debatable) but the market simply isn't big enough to support every manufacturer chasing this niche.
I'm a Prius driver, but I love the looks of the Mazda 3, and I like the Mazda 5. But there's nothing interesting under the hood -- another boring gasoline-powered normally aspirated engine won't be in my future. I'm unlikely to buy any car that isn't a diesel, a hybrid, an electric, or that doesn't get exceptionally awesome mileage. AWD would be nice, too, though that does create a mileage tradeoff. So, if Mazda would produce a car that got 50mpg and/or a car had something really innovative under the hood, I'd seriously consider one.
@PeteMoran: How then would you describe wishing Prius batteries fail for their owners? I don't actually wish for battery facts to fail on people, that was jest. Don't take everything on the internet seriously. At least not the ones I’ve worked with, only the ones from other car companies mostly. Given Toyota’s design goals, they use words like “envy”, “elegant”, “striking”, “perfect combination”, “balanced compromise” and “I wish it were my idea”. That's quite a love fest. Can you come clean? Do you work for Toyota? I agree there is plenty to do on weight, but “just as viable”? How would you limit the wasteful ICE acceleration phase and capture braking energy in your design? I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "wasteful ICE acceleration phase." You mean the running of the ICE? Insisting on reducing the running of a engine and regenerative braking means you are looking at this purely through Hybrid glasses. There are heat losses from batteries as well, not to mention getting the electricity to the vehicle. Fiat's Multi-Air DI, BMW's valvetronic, or a DI diesel, use no intake throttles to reduce pumping losses, a significant loss in traditional SI engines. Combine this with stop/start technology. The weight penalty of the Hybrid is not just the battery pack but the electic motor as well. I can't find the weight of these systems, but the weight differnce between a corolla and a Prius is ~220lbs according to Toyota's website. Case in point: VW's Golf Bluemotion available for sale in Europe. http://green.autoblog.com/2009/07/06/volkswagen-golf-bluemotion-detailed-available-for-order-in-uk/ I don't hate the Prius, per se. But its not the only "proper" path to reduced energy consumption as some would make it out to be.
@ the duke Do you work for Toyota? No, I don't work for Toyota. My multinational employer has contracts with parts of Toyota and Hino in different regions, but I myself have only ever worked on a Hino contract. I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “wasteful ICE acceleration phase.” You mean the running of the ICE? No, I mean when the engine is at it's least fuel efficient which is most of the time out of a tight band, and especially from idle for the period of first acceleration a car needs. If you can suppliment or reduce that phase (perhaps with energy recovered elsewhere) you make a sizeable gain. I can’t find the weight of these systems, but the weight differnce between a corolla and a Prius is ~220lbs according to Toyota’s website. If you compare the Camry 2.4L (3304lbs) and Camry Hybrid (3638lbs) you can get a good idea. I'm not sure if there are other trim level differences. I don’t hate the Prius, per se. But its not the only “proper” path to reduced energy consumption as some would make it out to be. Fair enough, however it's a perfectly valid approach if one of your goals is to capture otherwise wasted energy.