Small Mazda I-4 gets big Ford role

New family replaces 8 engine groupings

HIROSHIMA, Japan — As a new family of aluminum inline-four engines developed by Mazda Motor Corp. for the Ford group goes into production, Mazda engineers can barely contain their pride.

Fumiaki Inami, Mazda managing director for product planning, business strategy and corporate benchmarking, boasted that whether the measure is torque, fuel economy, emissions or noise/vibration/harshness, “In all areas, we’re 10 percent better” than existing Ford or Mazda engines.

He joked that he has only one regret about what everyone at Mazda’s headquarters and production complex refers to, simply, as the new inline-four: “We didn’t have time to come up with a better name.”

Even without a name, the family of engines is crucial for Mazda and parent Ford Motor Co.

Developed at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion, the engines give Mazda a chance to strut its engineering prowess within the Ford group. And they give Ford a lighter, cleaner and cheaper alternative to its iron-block Zetec engine family, yielding benefits for corporate average fuel economy and profits.

“I think finally we’ll see some competitiveness from Mazda,” said William Nestuk, an auto analyst for WestLB Securities Pacific Ltd. in Tokyo. “Everyone is doing aluminum engines, so this is a good step in the right direction.”

2 million units annually

The engines will be supplied to Mazda, Ford truck, Ford North America car, Ford Europe and Land Rover operations from four factories worldwide. Volvo also could get a version.

Mazda’s Hiroshima engine plant will build 425,000 units a year for use in Mazda cars and Ford’s Asia-Pacific lineup. Ford plants in Dearborn, Mich.; Chihuahua, Mexico; and Valencia, Spain, also will produce the engine.

Production will total 2 million units a year, about 25 percent of the Ford group’s total engine output. The inline-four will come in 1.8-, 2.0- and 2.3-liter displacements and replace eight Ford and Mazda engine groupings. Ford has said the engine could spawn as many as 200 derivatives across all brands, including direct-injection versions.

The engines will power the Ford Focus, Mondeo and Taurus; the Ranger pickup; and the Mazda 6, MPV and Premacy. For now, Ford will continue to build its Zetec four-cylinder engines in the same sizes, particularly for racing and performance variants. But the cast-iron Zetec-E series, launched in the early 1990s, will be phased out as new models get the Mazda inline-four.

Zetec phased out

Production of the Zetec at Dearborn is being phased out, leaving Hermosillo, Mexico, as the sole production site in North America. In Europe, where the Zetec is now known as the Duratec, a name previously reserved for V-6s, production is being consolidated in the Bridgend, Wales, plant.

The Zetec-SE, a newer aluminum version, will remain in Ford’s lineup for the foreseeable future.

“The strength of the engine is the most important of the three elements of a vehicle,” Inami said. “Price is important, but the engine, styling and platform are the three pillar elements in product development.”

Basic engine parts such as the cylinder block can be common across brands. But other parts, such as cylinder heads and the intake and exhaust system, will be unique to each brand to preserve that brand’s identity. For example, the 2.3-liter engine to be used in the Ford Ranger will have neither a balance shaft nor sequential shift timing.

On a cost basis, 40 percent of the Mazda engine is made in-house and 60 percent is outsourced with 24 key suppliers. Of the purchased parts, 35 percent by value are sourced from overseas suppliers, including the throttle body and thermostat.

Of the outsourced parts, 30 percent come from a single supplier’s production site. For another 30 percent, a single supplier designed the component, which will be produced in multiple locations worldwide. The remaining 40 percent will come from various suppliers around the world.

Inami estimated that the global sourcing approach would yield a 10 percent cost savings compared with Mazda’s previous purchasing practice.

Despite Mazda’s apparent successes with the inline-four project, though, Nestuk says Ford is not likely to assign Mazda responsibility for developing larger, more profitable engines.

Small profits

Mazda has told analysts it will turn a profit of only 10,000, or about $83 at current rates, on each engine it sells to Ford Asia-Pacific. Ford is expected to purchase between 10 percent and 15 percent of Mazda’s output of 425,000 engines a year.

“I don’t see Mazda getting very much credit for this (from Ford), even if they do a good job. Ford wants to maintain control over larger engines, say those for pickups,” Nestuk said.

“Increasingly, Ford uses Mazda and doesn’t give Mazda anything in return. If that’s what happens, you’ll never see high margins at Mazda.”

You can reach James B. Treece at jtreece@crain.com
Tags: Ford Mazda

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