Why Mazda did so well and Volvo so poorly in Consumer Reports survey – by AutoBlog

The poor performances of Tesla and all three domestic automakers got the headlines in Consumer Reports magazine’s latest reliability survey, but there were other results that caught our interest.
Tiny Mazda notched the biggest gain among the 29 brands included in this year’s list, leap-frogging nine spots to No. 3. Buick, which was in the top 10 last year, fell 11 spots to No. 19, the biggest decline of any brand. And then there’s Volvo, a brand often vaunted for its quality and reliability, dropping six spots to dead last. What gives?

For starters, all three brands benefited or suffered in large part due to their relatively small portfolio of vehicles. So when raves or complaints rolled in for even one particular model, as was often the case, it weighed heavily on the entire brand. That’s especially true when it involves a relatively high-volume, hot-selling model such as the Buick Enclave (more on that in a moment). Mazda fared as well as it did despite the CX-3 losing Consumer Reports’ influential “recommended” status due to problems with its climate system, including leaks from the condenser and refrigerant unit that triggered a service bulletin from the automaker in late 2016. Deputy auto editor Jon Linkov said that scratch didn’t hurt the overall brand, since the CX-9 crossover and MX-5 Miata both jumped up to replace it on CR’s list of newly recommended vehicles, thanks to several back fixes Mazda made to both models.



Tech Column – Mazda Says Its Next-Generation Gasoline Engine Will Run Cleaner Than an Electric Car

Mazda hopes to achieve 56 percent thermal efficiency with the Skyactiv-3 gasoline engine. That would make it the most efficient internal-combustion car engine in history.
Mazda is staking much of its future on the continued existence of the internal-combustion engine, with clever tech like spark-controlled compression ignition set to debut in Mazda’s next-generation production-car engine, Skyactiv-X. But the automaker is already thinking even further into the internal-combustion future. Automotive News reports that Mazda is working on a new gas engine, Skyactiv-3, which the automaker says will be as clean as an electric vehicle.

Speaking at a tech forum in Tokyo, Mazda’s power train chief Mitsuo Hitomi said that the main goal with Skyactiv-3 is to increase the engine’s thermal efficiency to roughly 56 percent. If achieved, that would make the Skyactiv engine the first internal-combustion piston engine to turn the majority of its fuel? s energy into power, rather than waste due to friction or heat loss.

To date, the most thermally efficient automotive internal combustion engine belongs to Mercedes-AMG’s Formula 1 team, with an efficiency of 50 percent; AMG hopes the F1-derived engine in the Project One street-legal supercar will achieve 41-percent thermal efficiency, which would make it the most thermally efficient production-car engine in history. Automotive News says Mazda’s 56-percent goal would represent a 27-percent improvement over current Mazda engines. Hitomi didn’t provide a timeline for when Skyactiv-3 would reach production, nor did he specify how Mazda hopes to achieve such an improvement.

Mazda’s claim, that Skyactiv-3 would be cleaner to run than an all-electric vehicle, is a bold one, and requires some unpacking. Mazda bases the assertion on its estimates of “well-to-wheel” emissions, tallying the pollution generated by both fossil fuel production and utility electricity generation to compare Skyactiv-3 and EV emissions. Such analysis reflects the reality that, currently, much electricity is generated through fossil fuels. In regions where electricity comes from wind, solar, or hydroelectric, the EV would clearly win the argument, but that’s not the case for many customers today.

Mazda MX-5 Miata – A Story of its Origin

Mazda often reminds us that the MX-5 Miata is the world’s favorite two-seat roadster, with more than a million sales since 1989. While total Corvette production is higher—one million by 1992, over 1.6 million to date—coupes outnumber convertibles in ‘Vette’ land by a wide margin.

What Mazda is less vociferous to share is exactly how the Miata came to be. Why did the company add a second “zoom” to its lineup when the rotary-powered RX-7 already existed in coupe and convertible form? While it rarely happens in the car biz, the Miata is the brainchild of one person: Bob Hall, a fine-threaded car nut. The yarn that follows is our shrine to this creative soul.

Bob and his twin brother, Jim, were born in 1953 and grew up enjoying Southern California’s sun, sand, and surf (before the traffic become oppressive). Their father developed a passion for British sports cars during his service flying B-25 bombers. The MGs, Triumphs, and Austin-Healeys he owned over the years mesmerized the Hall boys, especially after their indulgent pop let them enjoy the feel of a responsive steering wheel at a premature age. While their peers tossed baseballs or pedaled bicycles, the Hall brothers polished their driving techniques in the Rose Bowl parking lots near their home.

After high school graduation, Bob enjoyed a six-week visit to Japan as an exchange student, resulting in the second twist in his psyche. Fascinated by Asian culture, he learned Japanese by listening to movie dialogue and by reading Japanese comic books with a dictionary in hand. On subsequent returns to the Land of the Rising Sun, Hall polished his second language and absorbed the nuances of Japanese culture. During a break from college studies, Hall convinced Motor Trend’s editor that he knew more about Japanese cars than anyone currently on staff and proved his point by submitting an unsolicited manuscript. The insights contained therein earned him a position at the magazine at age 20.

Visiting Japan while representing that publication, Hall enjoyed an audience with Kenichi Yamamoto, Mazda’s head of R&D, and their frank dialogue was the beginning of a long professional friendship. Shortly after Hall hopped from Motor Trend to AutoWeek in 1978, Yamamoto asked Hall what kind of cars Mazda should consider for the future. This was exactly the opening this animated enthusiast needed to bombard the Mazda product planner with his brainstorm.

“I shifted into overdrive,” Hall recalls. “While Mazda’s RX-7 [launched in 1978] is an A-plus sports car, the bugs-in-teeth, wind-in-hair classically British sportsters were expiring. My idea was to revive that category by recasting Mazda’s 323 rear-drive econobox as a two-seat roadster. Unfortunately, Yamamoto put on his poker face, so I had no idea what he thought of my idea. After a brief discussion, we moved on to other subjects.”

Mazda’s RX-7 was essentially a half-priced Porsche 924. What Hall had in mind was a more rudimentary two-seater to replace the British and Italian models fading from the U.S. market. While the notion of Mazda offering two sports cars wasn’t preposterous, that strategy was unlikely to be seriously considered in-house. Nor was it something your average auto journo might propose.

To fertilize the seed he’d planted, Hall espoused the need for more sports cars in AutoWeek and convinced a Car and Driver writer—me—to support his cause on the editorial front. After three years as AutoWeek’s West Coast editor, Hall joined Mazda’s California R&D organization as a product planner. In 1981, he was shocked when Yamamoto turned to him during a visit to say, “Hey Bob, what about your lightweight sports car? Why don’t you study that?”

Without hesitating, he did. An early ’82 position paper Hall submitted to Mazda’s planning department proposed recycling existing components—a four-cylinder engine, manual transmission, rear axle, possibly even an existing floor pan—to minimize cost. A year later, his idea became an off-line project not slated for production. While the Japanese favored either a front-engine/front-drive or mid-engine/rear-drive coupe, the U.S. team held firm on a front-engine/rear-drive roadster or nothing. This is when the obsessive Hall earned his Ikigai nickname, a Japanese word meaning the reason why one is put on earth.


The wheels that would result in the Miata began turning slowly but steadily. Designer Mark Jordan sketched the exterior as a junior Ferrari. The British consulting firm IAD built a running mule using the Mazda 323’s engine and an RX-7’s solid rear axle. Hall did his part by nudging his colleagues to stay on the case. Japanese designer Masao Yagi shifted the exterior in the Lotus Élan direction, from classic Italian to classic British. The project’s status advanced to the unapproved production model stage.

In late 1985, Yamamoto climbed the corporate ladder to become Mazda’s president. One of his first acts was recommending the lightweight sports car to his board of directors for production approval. His request was granted and Toshihiko Hirai became the chief engineer responsible for the Miata’s development. Hall had mixed emotions—excitement that his baby was final kicking, fear that Hirai might take the car in an unsavory direction.

Fortunately, the original inspiration survived the gestation process. The Miata name came from a German word meaning “reward.” Only a few components were recycled from existing models. The body was tidy and the chassis featured front and rear independent control arm suspensions, a first for Mazda. The 1.6-liter 16-valve four-cylinder engine produced 115 horsepower, enough to move this 2150-pound roadster with sufficient pep.

At the first hands-on driving opportunity in early 1989, journalists appreciated the special attention paid to cockpit ergonomics, the short-throw shifter, nicely tuned control efforts, and astute steering calibrations. The new Miata was light on its feet, toss-able, and easily controlled beyond the adhesion limit. In other words, it embodied every essential sports car characteristic and more. The top could be raised or lowered from the driver’s seat during a stop-light pause. The exterior gave a respectful nod to the Lotus Élan without wallowing in retro. The $14,000 base price—less than a four-cylinder Ford Mustang convertible—was irresistible. Car and Driver’s succinct assessment: delightful.

While the second- and third-generation cars lost some of the original verve, an aggressive diet and tidier dimensions for the fourth generation introduced three years ago brought this Mazda back on track. Current U.S. sales total a thousand or so Miata’s per month.

A dozen years at Mazda were enough for Hall. He departed the U.S. in 2000 to become an independent consultant in Australia before serving as Malaysian car maker Proton’s product development director for seven years. Significantly, Proton held controlling interest in Lotus until recently. Five years ago, Hall returned to Southern California and is currently the acting design director at the South Pasadena-based design facility of Geely, owner of Volvo and, in a full-circle coincidence, future majority stakeholder of Lotus. You can bet your bottom dollar he’s itching to get in on the Lotus planning as soon as the ink dries on that deal.

This article was submitted by John Williamson for the Ragtop Tales CFMC newsletter. The entire article (more pictures) can be found on Hagerty.com.

Mazda and Fiat finalize deal for Alfa roadster, next-gen MX-5 Miata

Mazda and Fiat Sign Agreement for New Alfa Romeo Roadster

Further to the joint announcement of May 23, 2012, Mazda Motor Corporation (Mazda) and Fiat Group Automobiles S.p.A. (Fiat) announced today the signing of the Final Agreement which will see Mazda produce an open-top two-seater sports car for Fiat’s Alfa Romeo brand at its Hiroshima, Japan, plant starting from 2015.

The new Alfa Romeo roadster will be developed for the global market, and will be based on the architecture of the next generation Mazda MX-5. The agreement foresees for both Mazda and Fiat to develop two differentiated, distinctly styled, iconic and brand-specific roadsters featuring rear-wheel drive. The Mazda and Alfa Romeo variants will each be powered by specific proprietary engines unique to each brand.

Through this contractual agreement, Mazda aims to enhance development and production efficiency and revitalize enthusiasm for open-top two-seater sports cars around the world. For Fiat, this collaboration will permit the company to deliver a modern interpretation of the classic Alfa Romeo roadster utilizing the latest technical solutions, helping Alfa Romeo to achieve its stated goals by 2016.

Turin/Hiroshima, January 18, 2013