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Mazda’s Hybrid-Free Strategy

Mazda admits that it lacks the cash required to field its own hybrid technology.
March 30, 2009

Mazda R&D chief Seita Kanai confirmed last week that his company has no plans to commercialize its own hybrid technology, according to a report last week in Automobile Magazine. The Japanese automaker markets a hybrid version of its Tribute, a small SUV, which Automobile Magazine describes as a Ford-engineered system closely resembling the Ford Escape Hybrid. Kanai says that Mazda will instead achieve mandated fuel economy savings by improving engines and transmissions, and by redesigning vehicles to reduce their weight.

Mazda’s Tribute SUV uses Ford technology

But Kanai also admitted that Mazda simply couldn’t afford to field a hybrid. And he acknowledged that the resulting technology gap represented a worrisome problem for the company with many buyers enamored of hybrids. Here’s how Kanai put it, according to Automotive News:

“We’re in real trouble,” Kanai said of the rapidly falling hybrid prices. “It’s a threat. We don’t have the resources to get involved in that kind of competition.”

The company could be even further behind if one is to believe plans by automakers such as Nissan and Ford to aggressively push into fully battery-powered electric vehicles (EVs). Nissan is considering selling its first battery EV in the U.S starting next year–two years faster than it had previously planned, according to another report today from Automotive News.

Quoting Mark Perry, Nissan’s U.S.-based product planning and strategy director, the report says that the rollout of Nissan’s EV will track the rollout of charging infrastructure, city-by-city. Presumably a thumbs up from the Department of Energy on Nissan’s request for loans to build an EV battery plant in Tennessee could also affect the automaker’s appetite for taking a bet on EVs in the U.S.

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