TOKYO — Mazda is banking on its first mild hybrid to give some kick to the next Mazda3.
The redesign of Mazda's second-best-selling nameplate in the U.S. will debut at this month's Los Angeles Auto Show sporting the company's new Skyactiv-X engine. And Mazda promises the new powerplant, mated to an electric motor, results in a smoother, zippier drive.
The strategy for Skyactiv-X is to deploy it in a mild-hybrid setup for pep and fuel economy, said Mazda Motor Corp. CEO Akira Marumoto, discussing the next-generation Mazda3 here ahead of its unveiling. Mild-hybrid Skyactiv-X powertrains eventually will be spread across the Japanese carmaker's lineup.
But Mazda also could face challenges in debuting the more expensive high-tech powertrain in a compact-car segment beset by falling sales. U.S. sales of the Mazda3 were down 14 percent through October as buyers continued to switch from cars to crossovers.
Introducing the technology in a lower-margin hatchback or sedan, rather than a more profitable nameplate such as the automaker's CX-5 crossover, may delay the recouping of investments in the technology.
The Mazda3 is the brand's No. 2 seller in the U.S., after the CX-5. But it ranks No. 10 in compact-car sales, trailing offerings from Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai, Chevrolet, Ford, Kia, Volkswagen and Subaru.
Marumoto defended the decision to launch Skyactiv-X in the Mazda3, saying the nameplate generates big volumes at the global level. The Mazda3 is also an entry model for customers new to the brand. By hooking them with Skyactiv-X, Marumoto hopes to hook them long term.
"We may be able to introduce it to an SUV in the not too distant future," he added.