Mazda is known for its “Zoom-Zoom” tagline, meaning sporty cars that set the bar for enjoyable handling at real-world prices. But the company has repeatedly expressed its lack of interest in electric cars, and its one hybrid is so half-hearted few know it exists.
Now, Mazda may have reversed course. It plans to join the fast-growing wave of automakers hoping to launch battery electric cars and an array of hybrid models. More remarkably still, it may acquire the technology from former controlling shareholder Ford.
Learning from Ford?
Last Thursday, Mazda executive Seita Kanai said at a press event that the company might partner with Ford to develop “electric devices” for better fuel economy. The company had first mentioned its about-face on hybrids at the New York auto show in April.
The news–reported by Bloomberg, among others–is startling because for many years, it was Ford that learned from Mazda. The eagerly awaited 2011 Ford Fiesta, for example, is based on the Mazda2 model sold in Europe and Asia (though not the US).
That car won plaudits for being larger, safer, and offering more equipment while actually cutting out 220 pounds of weight. Mazda has already reduced weight in its vehicles; Ford is one of several companies planning such “light-weighting” for future vehicles.
But Ford has years of experience on its Asian partner in hybrid-electric vehicles, having introduced the Ford Escape Hybrid crossover in 2004. The company has sold roughly 25,000 Escape Hybrids (and variations) each year since then.
More recently, it added the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid midsize sedan, which beats its direct competitor, the 2009 Toyota Camry, in both performance and gas mileage. The Fusion Hybrid has won rave reviews and is selling well.
Ford is also planning two all-electric vehicles: an electric Transit Connect small delivery van, to be launched next year, and an electric Ford Focus compact, due as a 2012 model, that it will build in its Michigan assembly plant.
Hydrogen, not electrons
Unlike Nissan, Mitsubishi, and Subaru, Japanese carmaker Mazda has done little research in electric drive. Its sole alternative-fuel projects, in fact, have focused on burning hydrogen in converted internal-combustion engines.
Just recently, it launched its first hybrid drivetrain, in the low-volume, Japan-only Premacy Hydrogen RE minivan. That van fuels its rotary engine with hydrogen, and complements it with a 110-kilowatt electric drive motor powered by a lithium-ion battery pack.
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