Mazda sees growth with lean gas engines, not EVs

TOKYO (AP) — Mazda’s president believes gasoline engines will still power 80 to 90 percent of the world’s autos even in 20 years time, and remains confident it can grow without electric vehicles.

The comments Thursday from Mazda Motor Corp. President Takashi Yamanouchi contrast with the strategy at Japanese rival Nissan Motor Co., which is banking heavily on its Leaf electric car, one of the first mass-produced EVs on the market.

Yamanouchi said Mazda’s efficient gas engine called “Skyactiv” will be a pillar of its growth strategy as the Hiroshima-based manufacturer seeks to boost sales in emerging markets, where electric vehicles and hybrids aren’t expected to be as popular as in developed nations.

“Skyactiv will be one of the drivers of our growth,” Yamanouchi told reporters at a Tokyo hotel, where Mazda showed a new subcompact.

Mazda currently has no hybrid vehicle in its lineup. It plans to start selling a hybrid by 2013.

Hybrids still require gas engines, and Yamanouchi said they can be counted as part of what will be the 80 or 90 percent of cars that aren’t electric.

Nissan has sold about 8,000 of its Leaf electric vehicles around the world, more than half in Japan, since its gradual global rollout started in December.

That’s a tiny fraction of the world auto market. But Yokohama-based Nissan is targeting production of 250,000 electric vehicles a year globally by 2015, stressing that concerns about global warming and pollution are growing.

Mazda began selling the Demio, known as Mazda2 overseas, in Japan on Thursday, offering a version packed with Skyactiv technology. It is targeting 6,000 overall Demio sales a month.

Mazda said it was not planning to sell the Skyactiv Demio overseas, but was planning the green technology for bigger models.

Mazda is building engine and vehicle assembly plants in Mexico for small cars, such as Mazda2 and Mazda3, for markets in Central America and South America.

Mazda has said it will stop building the midsize Mazda6 sedan at its 50-50 joint venture with Ford Motor Co. in Flat Rock, Michigan, but did not specify exactly when that would be, leaving the fate of the plant unclear. Mazda’s output there has been at about 40,000 vehicles a year.

Mazda, which has lost money for the last three fiscal years, is struggling to assert its brand without counting on its longtime partnership with Ford.

No replacement partnership has been announced, and Mazda has repeatedly said Ford remains a key partner.

Dearborn-based Ford bought 25 percent of the Japanese carmaker in 1979, raising it to 33.4 percent in 1996. But Ford began cutting ties in 2008, and last year lowered its ownership to 3.5 percent.

Like other Japanese automakers, Mazda has been hurt by supplier disruptions from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan. It is also hurt more than others by the surging yen because it sells vehicles made at overseas plants in Japan.

Yamanouchi reiterated the company’s target for annual global sales of 1.7 million vehicles by the fiscal year ending March 2016. Mazda sold 1.1 million vehicles for the fiscal year ended March 2011.

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