Mazda has long been known for its high-efficiency, fun-to-drive gasoline engines. It's also developing diesels. But the company had little ongoing research in hybrid and electric cars aside from its unusual hydrogen rotary hybrid research vehicle.
Now the mystery of where Mazda will find that technology has been solved. It won't come from former partner Ford, as many reports had it last summer. Instead, Toyota will license its Hybrid Synergy Drive technology to Mazda.
Sky + Hybrid Synergy Drive
The company plans to use the Toyota system paired with its new line of high-efficiency Sky engines, which it will begin rolling out in new models next year. Mazda says it plans to launch a hybrid vehicle in Japan by 2013.
By 2015, Mazda has pledged that the fuel economy of its entire vehicle line will improve by 30 percent, under the label of "Sustainable Zoom-Zoom". The Sky line of engines includes both gasoline models and new clean diesels as well.
Gas as good as diesel ...
Mazca's senior vice-president for quality, research and development, Robert Davis, told GreenCarReports.com last fall that the company believed its next generation of Sky gasoline engines will offer fuel efficiency equal to today's clean diesels.
And the new Sky clean diesels, he claimed, will match the gas mileage of today's hybrid-electric vehicles--which is to say, 40 miles per gallon or better in compact and midsize vehicles.
Greater gains than Toyota?
That means Mazda believes it can add Toyota's hybrid system to far more efficient engines and get even greater gains than Toyota itself is showing today in its own hybrids.
One way it will do this is by making its vehicles lighter. The new 2011 Mazda Mazda2 subcompact has won plaudits for being larger, safer, and offering more equipment while actually cutting out 220 pounds of weight. The company has already cut weight in other vehicles too.
A la Altima Hybrid
Toyota already licenses the Hybrid Synergy Drive system to another maker: Nissan. That company's 2010 Nissan Altima Hybrid is sold in a limited number of U.S. states, with production capped around 10,000 per year. Nissan has said it will develop its own hybrid systems in the future.
Toyota has built and sold more than 2.3 million hybrid-electric vehicles globally since 1997, which represents two-thirds of total hybrid production. Its 2010 Toyota Prius is the third generation of the world's best-known hybrid car; it has sold more than 1.6 million Priuses.
One hybrid already
For the record, Mazda sells one hybrid model already in the U.S. market. It's the 2010 Mazda Tribute Hybrid, which is a slightly redesigned version of the 2010 Ford Escape Hybrid. Once Mazda launched its own CX-7 and CX-9 crossovers, the Tribute (its first crossover) lost importance.
Tribute Hybrid sales are tiny, and few automotive writers have ever reviewed the vehicle. Still, it's the only hybrid vehicle that Mazda offers. Look for that to change starting for the 2014 model year.