Mazda’s approach to sustainability

Reading “Mazda SkyActiv is a novel approach to fuel efficiency; will it work?” over at Autoblog Green got me thinking. The article outlines how Mazda is eschewing hybrid and EV technologies (in the short term) to instead focus on light-weighting and efficiency.

It’s an interesting approach. I’ve written before about the “hyper car” concept outlined in Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins. Whereas the Lotus vehicle I was responding to in that post was just a concept, it’s interesting to see a mainstream brand like Mazda (which seems to be a bit more prominent in the Australian market than the US based on the Autoblog Green article) taking this approach to market. (It’s interesting to note that Audi have also announced a carbon-fibre project using an Australian partner.)

Autoblog Green ask if it will work — indeed, will it sell more cars. I think it’s actually a reasonably smart approach. The jury is still out on EVs and hybrids and the specific technologies that might “win” the race (including hydrogen fuel cells). With EVs taking a little while to gain traction in the market, there is a strong argument to holding off significant R&D expenditure in this area until the market is more mature.

(That said, I still think that electric vehicles will end up being the technology of choice, regardless of power source. And it is definitely important that some manufacturers lead the way, as Tesla and Nissan, among others, are doing.)

Regardless of which technology gets up, the measures that Mazda is exploring will all be relevant. And in the short term, with consumer uncertainty (and the high relative up-front cost of hybrid and EV vehicles), focusing efforts in this area can only provide benefits to the Mazda brand. That is to say, for those customers that aren’t ready to make the switch to EV/hybrid, the fuel efficiency benefits would likely be of appeal (and therefore to have an impact on sales). But it won’t be long before Mazda will need to start investing more heavily in alternative fuel/power train technologies. I’m sure, however, that they are keeping a close eye on developments and will be ready once a dominant approach appears. Definitely one worth watching…

Where did Subaru’s design go?

Ang and I have been tossing around the idea of getting a new car soon. We’re not actively in the market, but enough so that I started to look around at what’s available at the moment.

I have a couple of friends that have (second hand) Subarus, so I thought I’d check out the current range, only to be very disappointed. There are a number of great looking Subaru’s out there, but the current range look terrible. They seem to have lost their way some time around 2006/2007.

The New XV holds a little bit of promise (provided you like orange — which I do), but apart from that, I have trouble telling the Forester, Outback and Tribeca apart, and they all look very ordinary — I’m not sure which market segment they were targeting exactly, but they seem to have missed the mark terribly. This is from the company that developed the WRX and Impreza, which are now just shadows of their former glory.

Contrast this with Mazda’s appealing KODO design language across the range. This is a wonderful example of how to translate a design and brand concept across a wide variety of products, to great effect I think. Most directly look at the Tribeca compared to the CX-7. Yes, they are probably very different cars, but I think are compatible in intent/market (certainly they come across that way to a lay-person like myself). The CX-7 is not the most attractive vehicle in the fleet, and given the form factor was probably very difficult to translate the KODO design to. But the CX-7 has so much more character than the Subaru.

So, if we do go ahead and get a new (for us) car, I think we’ll be skipping the Subarus and looking elsewhere. At best, we’ll keep our search to pre-2007 models. Much as I would love to go on those fab recommendations from friends, the lack of good design is just too much to skip over…