- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2001

Mazda will introduce 11 new vehicles, ranging from small cars to a midsize line to sports cars, in the United States and overseas during the next three years. All are built on new architectures and are equipped with new powertrains.

In a press briefing, Mazda showed many of its upcoming vehicles and concepts. Mired in heavy debt and earning only skimpy profits, the automaker laid out its turnaround plans, the centerpiece of which is a new product portfolio.

The small-car line, intended for overseas, will include coupes and sedans equipped with new powertrains, ranging from 1.3- to 2.3-liter gasoline engines. A direct-injection gasoline engine and new diesels also are planned. The small cars will be available with a continuously variable transmission which is more fuel efficient because, instead of shifting at set points, the CVT shifts when it is optimal. The small car goes into production in Japan in 2002 and will be built at Ford's plant in Valencia, Spain, beginning in 2003.

A new midsize line will be the heart of Mazda's offerings in North America. The sedan, a replacement for the 626, will be built at the Flat Rock, Mich., plant. The facility is jointly owned by both Mazda and Ford, which owns 34 percent of the Japanese automaker. A version of this vehicle may even be sold as a Mercury. Mazda is studying whether it will sell the station wagon and five-door hatchback in North America. The wagon features what Mazda believes is an industry first. With the touch of a button, the rear seats fold down to create a large cargo area with a flat surface.

The midsize models will also be powered by 1.8- to 2.3-liter gasoline engines. A 3-liter V-6 with variable-valve timing will be available only in North America; a common rail direct-injection diesel engine will be offered in overseas versions. Mazda executives said the new engines will deliver class-leading performance, fuel economy and emissions that meet or exceed the latest standards in Europe and Japan.

Mazda brings back the RX and rotary engine with the RX-8 (a four-door, four-passenger sports car) in late 2002. Initially shown as the RX-EVOLV concept car at the October 1999 Tokyo Motor Show, a newer version was displayed at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January and the Geneva Motor Show in March. The RX-8 will be equipped with the 250-horsepower Renesis rotary engine that will offer good fuel economy and clean emissions. The car has central midship layout and has 50-50 front and rear weight distribution for good handling. Mazda's four-door freestyle door system, which has the doors opening like a clamshell with no center pillar, opens to a spacious interior for four adults.

Still in the concept stage are the Secret Hideout and the MX Sport Tourer. Strikingly similar to the Model X shown by Honda on this year's auto show circuit, the boxy Secret Hideout is aimed at young drivers and their friends as a home away from home with a flexible interior, and seats that fold down into a flat surface creating loads of storage. Mazda intends to bring the concept to market as a production model 12 months after it settles on the final design.

The MX Sport Tourer concept, shown this spring in Geneva, combines the athletic styling of a sports car with the functionality of a wagon. The vehicle is powered by a hybrid system, which consists of a lightweight, high-performance 2-liter S-VT engine and an electric motor. For highway driving, the gasoline engine propels a new type of four-wheel-drive system. In city driving, the car produces zero emissions by switching to the electric motor that powers the rear wheels. The MX Sport Tourer also is equipped with Mazda's freestyle door system with no center pillar, a sports car cockpit, a retractable roof and rear seats that store away to create a flat cargo surface.

What Mazda didn't show is as intriguing as what it did show. Mazda reportedly is considering an RX-7 model based on the same architecture as the RX-8 architecture. However, the RX-7 would be a two-seater for sports car purists. Mazda also did not show a large car to replace the Millenia. Executives hinted no replacement is in the works as Mazda's new mission is to focus on key markets, not be all things to all people.


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