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2017 LA Motor Show: Mazda says “We’ll always put the driver first”

By Ash Westerman, 30 Nov 2017 Events

2017 LA Motor Show Mazda says Well always put the driver first

Mazda North America’s CEO pours water on pure EVs and full autonomy

Driving enthusiasts rejoice — Mazda isn’t buying into a highly autonomous future; not for now, at least. Nor is Mazda betting the farm on pure EVs.

This is what Wheels has learnt from a candid interview with the company’s Japanese-born CEO of its North America operation, a man who clearly has the ear of the heavyweight strategists on the board back in Hiroshima.

“We believe there will always be a bond between drivers and cars,” says Masahiro Moro, who took over the top US job at the end of 2015.

He sees a future where cars still make noise, still need a driver, and where people want to own one, not just ride in one. Yes, he’s running contrary to plenty of other heavyweight car companies, but his words carry clout.

“No steering wheel is not an option for us,” he says flatly. “Any autonomous feature should be there to help the driver, but not have total control. And the car should not be a mere commodity; it needs to enrich a customer’s life.”

According to research to which Mazda subscribes, the internal combustion engine will be the dominant power source - to the tune of 85 percent - to at least 2035. Mazda sees its SkyActiv-X technology, which effectively deletes the spark plug to bring compression-ignition to petrol engines, as an important part of prolonging ICE.

Moro was also willing to confirm that another SUV or crossover will join the line-up, as part of a joint venture with Toyota. What exactly? “That is a decision yet to be made,” he said. “By 2021, we will have settled on that, then things will happen quickly.”

The tie-up with Toyota could also help Mazda navigate the hugely complex and costly world of at least partial autonomy. “We are a small company, so it makes sense for us to work with Toyota to develop a co-piloting system; maybe around 2025. But we’re watching closely at the legislation,” he says.

There’s plenty of talk at Mazda about stretching the brand further upmarket, which begs the obvious question: will Mazda revive the MPS sub-brand and cash in on the lucrative high-performance segment? Sadly, Moro is quick to shut this down: “We are not going to follow established premium brands in that space.
“The Mazda brand has grown up; look at the Vision concept. What we need are even more sophisticated powertrains and even better refinement, not necessarily more powerful ones. So it’s not a priority for us right now.”

So where does that leave a rotary-powered sports-car flagship; an RX-9 halo car?

“We have a huge rotary fanbase, and it presents an interesting opportunity. We have resources committed, to continue to develop the rotary; a small team of dedicated engineers. But it’s not on the official company roadmap at this point.”

As for the option of following Abarth down the turbo-charging path for the MX-5, as the Italians have done with the 124, his response sticks to the Mazda playbook: “I prefer normal aspiration for MX-5. I want our engineers to fully exploit the atmo engine for purity in that car.”