Mazda Thinks Hybrid Honeymoon is Over!

Mazda Press and News

Mazda officials played down the recent industry rush to produce hybrids, vowing Thursday to boost fuel efficiency through cheaper methods such as reducing the weight of regular vehicles.

Seita Kanai, a Mazda Motor Corp. director who oversees research and development, said even in 2015, the gasoline engine will account for nearly all autos around the world with electric vehicles and hybrids making up a tiny niche market.

He said improving the fuel-efficiency of gasoline engines, developing lighter car-bodies and reducing fuel consumption during idling are the challenges Mazda is taking up to make their models green.

“We see improving the mileage of the basic engine as our top priority,” Kanai said at the Hiroshima-based automaker’s Tokyo office.

Mazda Senior Managing Executive Officer Yuji Harada chided what he called a “brand-worshiping” Japanese market for not looking at the high costs of fancy technology.

“It’s just a mood,” he said of the interest in gas-electric hybrids.

The efforts at Mazda are not unique, and automakers with new hybrids are also working on greener gas engines and other less costly ecological measures.

Even Kanai acknowledged the arrival of cheap hybrids, such as Honda Motor Co.’s $19,800 Insight, was a danger for Mazda, Japan’s fifth-biggest automaker.

Toyota is also expected to lower hybrid prices.

“We see that as a threat, and to be honest, we are really not sure what to do,” he told reporters. “We don’t have the strength to get sucked into a hybrid price war.”

Worries have been growing about money-losing Mazda’s future after Ford Motor Co., struggling under massive losses, sold 20 percent of its 33.4 percent stake in Mazda late last year. Ford and Mazda still have a partnership, including sharing ecological technology.

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