Mazda desperately wants to build another rotary-engined sports car, and it seems extremely likely it has even designed and developed one, but senior company executives fear that such a vehicle might soon be socially unacceptable, and they speak about being in “a race against time” to get it done before then.
Ask senior managing executive officer Ichiro Hirose if he’d like to see Mazda use its unique rotary technology for something more exciting than a range extender hybrid – as we did at the Tokyo Motor Show – and his face lights up as he nods, vigorously.
“It’s still our dream,” he said.
Mazda chief designer Ikuo Maeda, a man who races MX-5s in his spare time and loves sports cars in general, goes just a tiny step further.
“We never give up on that dream,” he said smiling.
Push him further, however, and he makes it clear that there are wider social factors that are turning that dream – of Mazda having a properly exciting halo car again – into a potential nightmare.
“I don’t know if we are having an RX-8 replacement, we have to see what the society thinks of that and what the environment is like in terms of accepting the idea of a sports car,” he said, referring to the idea that, in an emissions-focused world, burning fuel purely for fun rather than transport may increasingly be seen as irresponsible.
“I understand that the clock is ticking and that the environment constantly changes, and we have to see if the current and future environment would be able to accept a sports car with open arms,” he said.
“We understand that we are racing against time. But if the notion of driving a sports car causes people to think negatively about the pressure that is putting on the global environment, if having a sports car itself is seen as a negative thing, then we don’t want that.”
Surely, then, Mazda could consider some kind of hybridised sports car, or even an EV one?
“I think we need to consider different solutions, we need to explore various different ways to actually realise it, because what is important is to offer that sports car into the market,” Mr Maeda said.
“There are still many fans for sports cars, and I think it’s really about understanding the determination and hope of these sports car fans and then converting that into the power to push for the need for a sports car.”
When it comes to more realistic, or more easily realised sporty Mazdas, Mr Maeda says he personally would like to see an MPS version of the current Mazda3 hatch, and that he believes this would be a far better choice than applying a sporty spritz to one of the company’s more popular SUVs.
“If you look at the range that we have in product currently, I think we can say the Mazda3 hatch is quite fitted or suited to that kind of sporty vehicle,” he said.
“Personally, I’d like to try to have a high-performance version of this vehicle, but I said personally, and when I say personally you always say Mazda would like to.”