Mazda has a high-tech hybrid which it believes can trump the upcoming GM Volt and will put it into volume production, although only on a lease deal for drivers, in 2009.
The Mazda5 hybrid uses a hydrogen-fuelled rotary engine to charge an onboard battery pack, which then makes it a fully electric drive in the same style as the Volt.
The Mazda5 is the start of a major hydrogen drive by Mazda, which company chairman Hisakazu Imaki says is the fuel of the future.
“Travelling around the world I know there are many people who believe we will evolve into a hydrogen-based industry,” Imaki said in Sydney last week. He says Norway is already working on such hydrogen-based projects.
“We will be supplying to that a hydrogen-powered Mazda RX-8,” he says.
Imaki says the Mazda5 project is much more adventurous than just converting an existing engine which runs on unleaded petrol and he is keen to see how it works.
“By the end of this fiscal year we intend to start sales on a lease basis,” he says.
Mazda plans to cut the fuel consumption across its range by 30 per cent by 2015.
“We are also working to reduce the energy use in our production facilities,” Imaki says.
“I can proudly say I think our plants are among the facilities that use the least amount of C02 in the world.”
Imaki says Mazda is pushing hard on all fronts to meet emission and economy targets, but is not locked into a single solution despite an emphasis on hydrogen.
“We are working on multiple solutions to the challenges we face, including hybrids,” he says.
Imaki says Mazda will present a new technology at the Paris Motor Show in October as it pushes for better efficiency in a range of vehicles.
“It will be something in the powertrain area. But that is going to be just a first step,” he says.
“It's something I'm sure will get a strong reaction. For competitive reasons I cannot delve into the technical solution to achieve it.
“Although it is just the first step, at the show in Paris we will be coming out with the first step.”
Further into the future, he says there is strong potential for plug-in electric vehicles.
“One thing that can be said is that a plug-in vehicle is very persuasive and understandable, even to a housewife,” he says.
“And when I say `housewife' I have my own wife in mind.”