New Mazda2 to plug in

words - Marton Pettendy
But ground-breaking rotary-hybrid version of Mazda's smallest model won't come Down Under

Mazda is almost certain to produce a plug-in hybrid version of its third-generation Mazda2, employing a development of the rotary-powered range-extender technology trialled in the outgoing Mazda2.

However, the first production PHEV version of Mazda's smallest model will not be revealed at the new Mazda2's global launch in August and is unlikely ever to be available in Australia, where the new 2 goes on sale in October.

Mazda Australia Managing Director Martin Benders said his company would not make electrified vehicles, including the Mazda3 hybrid, available until government subsidies made them viable.

"The only markets in which you can justify bringing something like that out, to get at least a reasonable amount of volume to justify setting it up as a saleable model, are ones where there's government support for those types of models," he told motoring.com.au.

"In Japan hybrids sort of took over as the brand of choice, but only for people who want the easy route to being green – [people who say] 'I'll buy a hybrid so that makes me green' – not people who actually think about whether it's viable technology or not."

Benders said that because it's more expensive, hybrid technology could not match the overall CO2 reduction impact of Mazda's more affordable new conventional engines, which will make the new Mazda2 up to 20 per cent more efficient than before.

"As the best possible fuel economy at an affordable price hybrid doesn't make sense, because the fuel economy gain isn't that great unless half of all sales are hybrid, which won't happen without big tax breaks like in the Netherlands," he said.

"We try to deliver the best performance package at the best price and it will stay that way unless there are drastic changes, and it doesn't look like the current government will do that."

Priced from $35,490, Australia's top-selling petrol-electric vehicle, the Toyota Camry, costs $5000 more than the cheapest Camry and lowers fuel consumption from 9.3 to 5.2L/100km, while the world's most famous hybrid, the Prius (from $33,990), consumes 3.9L/100km.

The Mazda3 hybrid is about as efficient and would be priced from about $28,000 here, but Benders says Mazda would need about 500 sales a month to make it viable in Australia.

So far this year Toyota has sold about 200 Prius vehicles, for an average of about 40 per month, about 30 per cent of which went to fleet or government buyers.

Less than 12,000 new hybrid vehicles were purchased in Australia last year, out of a total of 1.14 million, with hybrid sales declining across all segments.

The local Mazda chief said lower-displacement turbo-petrol engines were also more expensive – and therefore less effective in terms of total CO2 reduction – than highly developed naturally aspirated internal combustion engines, which he suggested delivered better real-world fuel economy.

"Lots of European brands are betting on downsized turbo engines to get below a CO2 figure. It works in Europe because of the fuel consumption test."

And unlike some other brands, Mazda Australia is not calling on government support for electrified vehicles.

"I don't know whether we should be spending government money to force the industry," said Benders.

The new Mazda2 will be released here with two all-new 1.5-litre SKYACTIV four-cylinder petrol engines, which will consume as little as 5.5L/100km, and will also be offered in Europe with a new 1.5-litre SKYACTIV-D turbo-diesel engine.

But diesel power will continue to be unavailable in Australia's Mazda2 due to its higher cost and lack of demand in the light-car segment.

In Japan, where it's called the Demio, the new 2 is also likely to become available with a rotary engine-assisted plug-in hybrid powertrain, as previewed by the previous-generation Mazda2 range-extender electric vehicle.

The prototype Mazda2 RE (Rotary Engine) Range Extender incorporated a lightweight (100kg) downsized (330cc) single-rotor Wankel engine mounted on its side under the rear of the vehicle via three mounting points, eliminating vertical vibration. 

When it was revealed last year, Mazda said testing shows it's at least 5dBa quieter at the same revs than an equivalent petrol or diesel piston engine.

Equipped with a nine-litre fuel tank that can be filled with petrol, butane or propane, the 28kW rotary engine/generator was claimed to almost double (to 380km) the driving range of the 1280kg Mazda2 EV's 200kg, 20kWh lithium-ion battery pack, which powers a 75kW/150Nm electric motor.


Published : Monday, 30 June 2014
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