By on December 2, 2019

Like Jeep’s Wrangler, Mazda’s MX-5 Miata is a vehicle both beloved by purists and under threat from changing norms. Little has changed about the model since its inception, and redesigns — especially the last one — are the product of untold levels of scrutiny, calculation, and deliberation.

It’s a vehicle with an inherent purity. Weight, power, and balance are all arrived at after months and years of careful planning, and any upset to the recipe carries with it the danger of alienating owners and intenders alike. And this is why high-level talk of electrification for the ND’s successor is bound to raise eyebrows.

According to Britain’s Autocar, Mazda bigwigs are considering adding a new ingredient to the Miata mixture: an electric motor, either part of a hybrid drivetrain, or the sole motivator of the vehicle.

The fourth-generation MX-5 kicked off production in 2015, meaning it’s come time for Mazda brass to start thinking of a follow-up. Careful consideration (and engineering) went into the ND in order to ensure the roadster was still a plucky, easy-to-live-with car with attractive sporting attributes. Keeping weight down sits at the top of an MX-5 designer’s to-do list.

And that hasn’t changed.

“The lightweighting and compact size are essential elements of MX-5, so even if we apply electrification, we have to make sure it really helps to achieve the lightweighting of the vehicle,” said Mazda R&D head Ichiro Hirose.

Electric motors are compact and powerful, capable of delivering maximum torque from rest, but to keep up the momentum they require hefty battery packs. Should Mazda go the hybrid route, an electric motor and associated (albeit smaller) battery pack will still add weight to the vehicle. Hardly ideal. Currently, a stock MX-5 tips the scales at about 2,345 pounds, with motivation provided by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 181 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque.

But why go this route, or even think about going this route at all? Blame a shifting landscape.

The preference of people who enjoy driving sports cars might be changing, so we need to think about what direction society is going,” said Mazda’s design chief, Ikuo Maedahe. “We want to look at the best powertrain to keep the vehicle lightweight, but because of the diversifying requirements and preference, we need to explore various options.

He added, “I don’t have the answer now but we need to make a vehicle that people can own without worrying that they are not being eco-friendly.”

That comment isn’t a confirmation that the next-gen MX-5 will adopt an electrified powertrain, but it’s a strong hint that Mazda plans to go that route. A successor to the current MX-5 isn’t expected to appear until possibly 2022, but the jury’s out on whether the automaker will offer updates to the existing product, or go in a new direction. Being that it’s not a huge source of volume, Mazda has the luxury of taking its time.

MX-5 sales reached a post-recession high in the U.S. in 2017, with some 11,294 of the little things finding new buyers — nearly double the volume its NC predecessor saw earlier in the decade. Since that high point, demand has fallen off. Some 8,971 MX-5s left the lot last year, and the first 10 months of 2019 saw the model fall 14.6 percent.

[Images: Mazda]

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86 Comments on “Purity Threat? Mazda Ponders What to Do With the MX-5...”


  • avatar
    -Nate

    Interesting .

    I’m still skittish about electrics, I wish a Miata fit me better .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    A Scientist

    Love it or hate it (can’t quite decide which side I’m on), I can’t help but see this happening more and more in the coming decade.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    The answer is obvious. Make it an electric SUV.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    If weight, center of gravity, and weight balance can stay roughly the same with say a 200 plus mile range I can see a winner.

    (And by weight I mean the car with fluids ect, curb weight rarely takes in to consideration a full tank of gas – does it?)

    • 0 avatar
      FerrariLaFerrariFace

      At least in the US it does, by law:
      “The United States Environmental Protection Agency regulations [2] define curb weight as follows: Curb weight means the actual or the manufacturer’s estimated weight of the vehicle in operational status with all standard equipment, and weight of fuel at nominal tank capacity, and the weight of optional equipment computed in accordance with §86.1832–01; incomplete light-duty trucks shall have the curb weight specified by the manufacturer.”

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I only asked because sometimes variations in curb weight are seen as published by the manufactures and enthusiasts magazines. Some do their own weigh ins etc.

        Just wondering.

  • avatar

    Electric is coming, they’ll do a hybrid first in this model, and save the EV one for when they have something else to put it in. No sense in all that investment for such a niche product. The MX5 should not be a powertrain frontrunner, but rather a follower.

    The purity of the MX5 will not be maintained. But just like Ford pointed out, impure product with a name you enjoy is better than no product at all.

    The purists will complain a bit and then buy in anyway, as they’ve no other choice in the market.

    And so we move forward.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I disagree, I think in the next year or so it will be shown how foolhardy it is and everyone who went all in is going to be paying for it one way or another.

      • 0 avatar

        You think EV isn’t coming?

        As a separate point, I *fully* agree going all in on EV/CUV like Ford and GM are doing is a huge mistake. One simple war or fuel spike will show them this error.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I don’t think it can/will be done economically and there will be carnage in the industry. Smaller players like Mazda may not survive if they go all in.

          I argued last week, Tesla sold 48K Model X units in 2018 @ 90K+ are there 48K more buyers out there for something similar at 60K+? I’m skeptical. Tesla is a cult akin to Apple, there are a percentage of buyers who will buy even if it is to their detriment. Mustang may sort of be a cult, but current members are polar opposites to those in Tesla from a belief system standpoint. I don’t see many of them signing up for E. So how many buyers are really out there? We are about to find out.

          “going all in on EV/CUV like Ford and GM are doing is a huge mistake”

          In the case of GM, they are becoming a Chinese company more and more each day and whatever they come up with may sell in China if it fails to in USDM. Ford does not have a large Chinese presence and their European presence has been shrinking. They are seriously gambling if they put too much money/resources into it. When the smoke clears, Chrysler et al may actually come out on top over GM and Ford. You heard it here first.

          • 0 avatar
            TMA1

            28, China is going to push more and more manufacturers to go electric, and when GM is done becoming a Chinese company, electric is what they will have to build to make sales.

            I mentioned this a few weeks ago, but when I was in China recently I learned that large cities like Beijing are restricting people’s abilities to buy ICE cars. You have to get your license plates before anyone will sell you a car, and the government isn’t giving out regular plates to commoners without a multi-year wait. But you can have green (i.e., electric) plates right now. So guess what people are buying if they want to drive…

            We used a car service called Didi over there to get to and from work every day. Basically Uber, after stealing Uber’s IP and driving them out of the market. About 1/3 of the cars summoned were electrics, even in the third-tier cities.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I can’t speak for the economics of the P.R. China, but the EV in USDM has proven to be a non-starter for many buyers for both reasons of economics and personal choice. Mfgs such as FCAPSAABC don’t really have a presence there to my knowledge and thus for them going head first into a loss leading technology would not be wise. Ford and Mazda, the same. GM on the other hand it makes sense which is why I think they developed their EV technology in the first place.

            “I learned that large cities like Beijing are restricting people’s abilities to buy ICE cars”
            “So guess what people are buying if they want to drive…”

            I expect such behavior from a totalitarian state such as PRC, what will be interesting is to see the behavior of the gov’ts in the so called Free World.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            If economies of scale can be achieved with batteries, EV technology won’t be a financial loser anymore. The future of the tech depends on whether anticipated battery advances pan out. Given that there are multiple different technologies under exploration to reduce battery cost, I suspect at least one of them will.

            I continue to think that EVs will sell on their own merits once:

            (1) battery costs are about half of today’s per kWh
            (2) a few more consumers get exposed to them via Tesla or otherwise, and realize that when you are charging every day and can use fast chargers most people really don’t need more than 200 miles of range

            At battery prices half of today’s, a 200-mile EV will cost about as much to build as an ICE vehicle does today, and its operating costs will be drastically lower.

            That’s not to say they’ll replace ICEs overnight, but they will steadily become the vehicle of choice for everyone who isn’t a megacommuter or a resident of a rural area.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            @dal: It’s not just batteries that are getting lighter. Motors might be getting lighter soon.

            https://www.ifam.fraunhofer.de/content/dam/ifam/en/documents/Shaping_Functional_Materials/casting_technology/coils_aluminum_en_fraunhofer_ifam.pdf

            As motors and batteries get lighter, you’ll need less capacity for a given range. Less battery capacity means even less weight and less cost.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            @dal

            I’ll let the data tell me the story. I realize Ford is trying to make a buck but if their goal is electric Escape or some such, $60K+ is far too high for most of the nation. Median income is only 62 and change, and when you factor in housing and food costs I’d say the absolute highest Mr. and. Mrs 62-and-change can go is 30K. I’ll be curious to see what happens but EV Model T it is not, and that is what would be necessary for the pure EV to leave niche status.

            @stuki

            “As any drop in demand for oil stemming from electrification of roads in Japan and The West, will just result in poorer people being able to buy more of it to fuel cars in places without such infrastructure…”

            I can be very much a cynic, but somehow I feel oil, at least on the retail end, will have such a stiff grip that even with decreased demand the proles will not be able to buy more of it economically speaking. Oh demand took a permanent drop, well we impose [insert artificial cost here] for [insert made up reason].

            Speaking of oil. I’m most perplexed on the mid to long term of the industry. I read a piece by an oil bull, who prognosticated demand will peak and slowly head downward yet with an ever increasing global population I find this difficult to reconcile.

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          EV is here already.

          About as here as it’s going to get. The free lunch is largely over now. And it turned out “free” costs $50K, 4500lbs and still lost money….

          What EV is not, is wholesale replacing ICE cars. Not with batteries. That’s so silly only a standard issue, clueless fresh-print-and-home-equity-in-hand “Investor” dilettante could fall for it.

          If you light up (electrify) every major highway and other arterial road, you’ll get somewhere closer to a complete changeover. But still not 100%. Cops will still run ICE cars. And hence, so will others concerned about lock-in. Or in the cops’ case, “lock out.” And as for the military running around Tora Bora looking for a charger for their MRAPS…..

          Of course, wrt CO2, it will mean exactly nothing. As any drop in demand for oil stemming from electrification of roads in Japan and The West, will just result in poorer people being able to buy more of it to fuel cars in places without such infrastructure…

        • 0 avatar

          How war affects EV CUVs? I mean simple war. If it is a total thermonuclear war with China e.g. then yes I agree but Ford and GM will make something else for war effort.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “impure product with a name you enjoy is better than no product at all.”

      Is it though?

      • 0 avatar

        Cancelling the MX5 as opposed to hybridizing it sounds like the wrong move.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          Maybe. Sometimes “purity loss” doesn’t lose existing customers and/or gains new ones. And sometimes it kills the car. Just depends on if there is a true sales market for turning the Miata into an electric Z4.

          • 0 avatar
            jack4x

            Luckily both Corvette and Mustang (and Supra to a lesser extent) are in the process of betting decades of purity on testing this theory, so Mazda will have plenty of research to draw on.

            I’ll get worried when I see FCA doing it though.

          • 0 avatar
            MrIcky

            I think the corvette is positioned best for hybrid “market research”, because if it’s fast enough all sins will be forgiven.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      “The purists will complain a bit and then buy in anyway, as they’ve no other choice in the market.

      And so we move forward.”

      The last part sounds like some cult’s mantra. We’re moving backwards over a hundred years, not forwards. We have a civilization that is unsustainable by primitive EVs and artificially stunted energy production. A new dark age isn’t a forward move, but it is precedented.

      • 0 avatar

        The direction of civilization with the most momentum ends up as the forward direction, even if it’s wrong.

        It’s not stoppable.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          I’m waiting to see nonTesla PHEV/BEV sales greatly increase in the US before declaring “unstoppable”, but at this point I don’t think I’d bet against an EV takeover. Outside of HD trucks no one is developing a new standalone ICE. The momentum for things with a plug is just enormous.

          • 0 avatar

            Since our legislation is foolishly fixated on MPG figures (and not other pollution like shipping/China/India), PHEV/EV is the easiest way forward for these automakers. They can do it with existing tech.

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          The momentum in technology goes beyond BEVs. We’re rapidly becoming a lithium battery based society. Lithium batteries are going into everything from submarines and grid storage to alarm sensors. That’s driving material scientists to improve storage technology. It goes way beyond vehicles. EVs are just along for the ride. It’s more than just a fad.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Might add dozens of new sales, go for it!

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    They need to figure out a way to integrate the battery cells within the body itself, eliminating the extra weight of battery packaging, like is done in portable electronics.

  • avatar
    Morea

    I wonder how this will affect the relationship with FCA and its Fiat 124 spider?

    Is the 124 going to go along for the ride and use the Mazda hybrid or BEV powertrain, or will it stay ICE and scoop up some of the MX-5 purists?

  • avatar
    rpn453

    “I don’t have the answer now but we need to make a vehicle that people can own without worrying that they are not being eco-friendly.”

    Hmmmm; so a toy that consumes $30,000 worth of energy and resources to produce is certainly off the table. I suppose it should also have a small physical footprint so it doesn’t occupy much land or – god forbid – an enclosed space.

    A bicycle?

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Elephant in the room: 7+ billion homo sapiens. Very eco-unfriendly, why is this never discussed?

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Read Dan Brown – Inferno

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        28, that’s the question we really need answered! I wonder when people are going to stop hemming and hawing about the size of our carbon footprints, and get down to reducing the number of feet.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I’ve said for a long time its either move into space or move underwater, neither is happening.

          Tick tock.

          • 0 avatar
            JMII

            From the original (and best) Matrix movie…

            “Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment; but you humans do not. Instead you multiply, and multiply, until every resource is consumed. The only way for you to survive is to spread to another area.”

      • 0 avatar
        NeilM

        “Elephant in the room: 7+ billion homo sapiens. Very eco-unfriendly, why is this never discussed?”

        Never?

        Yours,

        Thomas Robert Malthus

      • 0 avatar
        slap

        “Elephant in the room: 7+ billion homo sapiens. Very eco-unfriendly, why is this never discussed?”

        Thanos was right.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I’m reading this and I’m thinking, “who is Thanos” and then I see its a fictional character. Based on what I read, I’d say the basic principle of what the character is alluding too is correct. I think the Matrix comparison is more adroit, mankind is a virus.

          • 0 avatar

            The ornery side of me wants to reply, “Step in front of this gun. I’ll start by getting rid of your two feet. Then I’ll turn the gun on myself and gain another two feet eliminated.”

            It would be easy – and lazy – to argue that we should be much less concerned with mass shootings. It’s reducing feet every time one occurs. Every murder is helping reduce those pesky humans that are causing all the problems. Hard to believe you folks are buying into this nonsense. And you would well say, it’s hard to believe I’m not.

            There is an answer, but it is one that many do not want to consider nor hear even though it is a non-destructive solution.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Which is?

      • 0 avatar
        jeanbaptiste

        Exactly. Let’s just get to the root of the problem. Thanos has it right.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      There are a few places in the world — including much of the Netherlands, one of the richest — where cities and infrastructure are planned so that using bicycles is as easy as using cars is here, and far safer.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    I am not sure an electrified MX-5 will be more attractive to any category of potential buyer, except a few electric car enthusiasts who likely already own Teslas–a small cohort indeed.

    MX-5s are not purchased by anyone for their practicality, they are purchased for their fun-factor. I don’t think an electric drivetrain will add fun–such would likely reduce the fun factor.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Even if it increased fun factor, Mazda only sold about 10K examples last year. I doubt very much this market would increase simply because there is a new fun variant.

      • 0 avatar
        R Henry

        It is NOT a stretch of the imagination to see that the enthusiast car market is shrinking as millennials view “Fun” through the lens of their smart phones….

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          One positive thing we could take from a Carrington Event, would be the conniption of the Millennials when their phones go black.

          • 0 avatar
            R Henry

            It has been interesting to observe how my son, a Gen Z’er, is mostly not interested in buying anything unless he can do it on his phone. Making an actual voice telephone call, and asking a real person questions is something he is not generally willing to do.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Dear Lord we have to save them or we’re all doomed.

        • 0 avatar
          The Ghost of Buckshot Jones

          “Millennials” are turning 40 dude. The youngest edge of that demo graduated college 5 years ago. They’re on their phone as much as you are.

    • 0 avatar
      notapreppie

      Keep the weight low down in the car and under 2700 lbs with a 200 mile range with 150-200 hp and instantaneous torque at 0 RPM?

      Honestly, I think a plug-in electric Miata could be a blast.

  • avatar
    thornmark

    which reminds me, Honda, please bring back the S2000

  • avatar
    chaparral

    What’s their weight budget for hybridization?

    Go down to a 1.2 liter three cylinder engine and a 4-speed manual, and maybe they save 100#. That’ll buy them a 40 kW (55 hp) motor and about 5kWh of battery pack – does this break even?

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    A single rotor Wankel with a hybrid power train would be a fine option combining the traditional with the modern.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    I would have bet real money the Miata would be the last vehicle offering a clutch pedal in the USDM. So much for that….

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Me too. If the Miata no longer offers a manual then it will be a very sad day. At least the Corvette still has a V8 for another 5 to 7 years. At some point having the last of these technologies will be seen as a hero to some but as a joke to others. Like when cars no longer came with tape players.

      • 0 avatar
        jack4x

        Surprisingly, I actually think the new most likely candidate is the Wrangler, at least for attainable vehicles.

        Long lifecycle time that just started last year, reasonable take rate, dedicated fan base, and a manufacturer with a history of throwing middle fingers to prevailing trends.

        The real answer will probably be some special edition 911 that brings the stick back for a $50k upcharge “based on popular demand”

  • avatar
    rokop

    The future is in electrification. The Miata will pass on into history along with so many other cars. We more mature folk will remember is nostalgically. Change is inevitable. What we take for granted today are things our grandparents wouldn’t even understand, and we will be clueless about the things that our grand kids take for granted when they grow up. In the meantime, give us a rotary/electric hybrid in the Miata with manual transmission (and no need for all the electronic driver aids).

  • avatar
    mor2bz

    Wait for battery desity 3X what it is now. In the meantime, go hybrid/ plugin on another model to bring the average mpg up for the mfg.

    And run the other way on the Miata; aluminum hood, SMALLER engine,
    lighter retractable top, etc. If people want a Camaro or Mustang,
    let them buy those.

  • avatar
    digitaldoc

    Keep the electric, and give us a turbo instead. I have never heard anyone asking for an electric Miata, but most want it to have some more power that it could truly use and make it more of a sports car. It’s not like Miata needs to compete with an RX-8 these days.

  • avatar
    thejohnnycanuck

    Sure Mazda, whatever.

    Remember this is the brand that keeps crying Wankel.

  • avatar
    StudeDude

    A small rotary used as a range extender for a hybrid Miata might be a possible solution. Or a smaller version of the Skyactive X engine for those who still want a manual trans. Since they are now hooked up with Toyota, there are lots of possibilities.

  • avatar
    monkeydelmagico

    Stay pure. The sales numbers are near record highs. Continue to shed weight, add comfort, and a turbo. Leave the electric niche alone Mazda. You don’t have the R&D budget for it much less the dealership network.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      As-is, you can consider it dead after this generation. It’s not a “halo car” to justify such minuscule sales. But on a shared FWD platform, same 2.0 plus a rear (RWD/AWD) battery/motor and 400+ combined HP/Tq, 60% rear weight dist, everyone can win.

      • 0 avatar
        bodayguy

        It’s not a halo car? What? That’s exactly what it represents for Mazda! Something doesn’t have to cost $300K or have 800 hp to be iconic and a symbol for the brand.

        Hey Mazda. I’ve bought 2 Miatas in the past 4 years. Keep it pure and attainable. That’s all we need.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          Isn’t it a halo car by default? Yes a halo car doesn’t have to set the world on fire, but it has to help sell the bread and butter cars of an automaker. The Miata barely sells itself (while not the most expensive Mazda).

          Do lured fans of Miatas show up at the Mazda dealer and buy a CX-5 or other instead? That they wouldn’t have otherwise? Or do they just simply buy the Miata? And or never buy another Mazda?

          Or is the Miata just the top of the Mazda sporty car food chain (since no RX8)?

    • 0 avatar
      The Ghost of Buckshot Jones

      Record highs? They used to sell 20+k a year in the 90s. The third gen sold 15-16k/year. They’re on track to sell fewer than 7k in the US this year. They haven’t broken triple digits in Canada in over a decade.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    Sorry, the joy of the Miata has nothing to do with power or speed etc.

    It is about wind in the hair, nailing a downshift, a raspy exhaust, a car you can wind to redline without going to jail, RWD, and a fun demeanor.

    A silent electric, with no manual gearbox, with a lot more weight that goes dead at 250 miles is not a Miata.

    Don’t do it Mazda.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Pure conjecture based on no data:
    – If Mazda does a hybrid MX-5, the powertrain will be fabulous – one of the best driver-oriented hybrid implementations ever.
    – And hardly anyone will buy it.

  • avatar
    Mustang Guy

    Has anyone asked if people actually want ev cars? This is a very dangerous slope we are facing. The material for batteries doesn’t just appear and is found only in war torn 3rd word countries. Do you want these countries controlling the world’s power supply? Contrary to what you have been told, there is no peak oil. And cars can be much more efficient than they are today using vapor and turbos. The EV trend is nothing more than a trend. Trust me, when oil and gas companies start losing money because of these batteries, they will crush that industry. Just like big tobacco is doing to the vape industry today

  • avatar

    OK Mazda.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Mazda should just continue making the MX-5 the way it is and wait till the battery technology gets smaller, longer range, and less expensive and go all electric. Keep the manual transmission option until they go all electric and lighten the body with an aluminum hood, trunk lid, and doors. Maybe eventually go to a carbon fiber body.

  • avatar
    brian in oz

    I think mazda is missing the boat. A hardtop miata/mx5 without the added weight & wasted boot space of the folding hardtop or a targa style roof. A car sized a smidge bigger would help.

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