The C-D segment just got more competitive
By Lou Ann Hammond
The C-D segment sedan is the biggest segment in the car industry for the United States. Most companies that are thriving in the C-D segment are in their 5th or 6th generation of a car, such as the Honda Accord or the Toyota Camry. This is Mazda's 3rd generation of the Mazda6.
The Mazda6 was first launched in 2002 as a 2003 model year vehicle. The second year out of the gate, Mazda had its best year of sales, topping 72,000 units sold. Sales for the Mazda6, since 2004, have sunk as low as a tad over 33,000 in 2012. It didn't help that there was a currency exchange issue, or that Ford gave up controlling interest in Mazda (as of November, 2010 Ford owns only a 3.5% stake in Mazda). On the bright side, that has allowed Mazda to consider what it wanted to do without thinking of Ford's needs.
California is a critical state for Mazda. Robert Davis, Senior Vice President for U.S. Operations, reminds me that they are headquartered in California, so he knows the California Air Resources Board (CARB) emissions requirements all too well. "We're a smaller manufacturer, so the ability to meet the requirements they give us are a little bit more challenging."
It's one of the biggest reasons car companies are creating gasoline direct injection engines. CARB will tell you that the Federal Government would not be as hard on the automobile companies as they are if CARB were not the initiators of the emission requirements. California created the Clean Air Act, so the state will get pretty much any waiver it wants from the Federal EPA, which means the car companies pay a lot of attention to any rule the California Government tries to set forth.
Which is why Mazda made the announcement at the Los Angeles Auto Show that, in the second half of 2013, the Mazda6 will be available with Mazda's SKYACTIV diesel technology. Not only is this 2.2-liter a diesel direct injection turbo, but it is also an ultra-low compression diesel engine, which Davis says will allow Mazda to manage some of the requirements of the CARB emissions statutes.
Derrick Jenkins, Chief Designer for Mazda North America, is designing production cars from the artistic concepts that Mazda has been unveiling at the auto shows. The Mazda6 is taken from the Shinari design, part of the Kodo line. In Japanese Kodo means the soul of motion and the design speaks to aerodynamics and the reduction in coefficienct of drag.
The evolution of the design started on the Mazda CX-5 production vehicle. I asked Jenkins about the side lines, something that traditionally was only on more luxurious vehicles. "We're trying to get away from the traditional line breakup; we've got a lot more dynamic line and a lot more transition and sculpture going on the side of the car."
Jenkins went to school for design, but designers can't just design a car. Designers have to design a car around an engine, around specifications for the car's segment and around legislation.
Jenkins gave away some of his secrets in dealing with the challenges of designing the front of the car. "The pedestrian impact has been the biggest challenge for me in the last year. We're really regulated on the hood and the fender height and front bumpers. Those regulations are very challenging for the proportions of the car. Lines have to be put into the car to make it look smaller, because it makes the car look taller. We have to play tricks with the lines to make it look lower, and put steps in the surfaces."
The gasoline direct injection compression is 13:1, which is unheard of in this segment. Soon, Mazda will bring their diesel variant which is 14.0:1 compression rate. The Volkswagen Jetta diesel 2.0-liter engine's compression ratio is 16.5:1. Why would Mazda take their diesel compression down to 14.0:1 and their gasoline compression ratio up to 13:1?
Ruben Archilla, Group Manager, Advanced Engineering, Research & Development, explained that Mazda is a small car company. Mazda figured out that they can beat the economies of scale if they machine the block in the same plant. In order to do that the compression needed to be as close together as possible.
The SKYACTIV gas engines (all sizes), SKYACTIV-D 2.2L, and the Cyclone V6 are all machined and assembled on the same mixed line at the Ujina plant. Because Mazda paid attention to this detail, the block machining time decreased from 6.0 to 1.3 hours. Archilla noted that the same standard Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining stations used for block machining can also be used for machining transmission housings.
Mazda's Program Manager, Hiroshi Kajiyama, and his team drove the Mazda6 500,000 miles, 100,000 of them in the Unites States. During that time Kajiyama-san got to experience the Jinba-ittai, the driver dynamic performance.
After driving the Grand Touring automatic and the Sport with the manual transmission my favorite was the sport model.
The Grand Touring was a good car, well contented, but I found myself comparing it to the rest of the segment, the Accord, the Altima, a Hyundai and the Volkswagen Passat. All of those vehicles are around $30,000. The Sport manual was nimble, responsive and well contented for $20,880. We were told there was no difference in the engine or the gearing between the two. The only difference was that the Sport had 17-inch wheels and the Grand Touring had 19-inch wheels. I actually preferred the cloth seats to the leather and enjoyed the spirit of the Sport.
Tim Barnes, Product Planning and Strategy for Mazda North America, knows the C-D segment that Mazda6 is in is so big that there are a primary and secondary set of competitors. Barnes sees the primary competitors as the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Volkswagen Passat. The secondary competitors would be the Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima and the Toyota Camry. Barnes says there are, on average, 15 vehicles that make up the C-D segment and that "typical pricing in the C-D segment ranges from the low $20,000 to low $30,0000."
Barnes acknowledges that the segment is tough. "That is why the 2013 Mazda6 has been completely refurbished. Every single part of the car is new to the Mazda6, even the badge font is changed." Mazda understands that they can't bring a compact sedan to market without it being fully contented. They expect the Sport model to garner 30 percent of sales. I would buy the manual transmission, Sport edition.
Intuitive driving position
Chassis has good structural integrity going around corners
Good lateral support in driver and passenger seat
No Bluetooth on the manual version
Don't like the Tom Tom Nav system
Have to get a kickdown for low-end torque going up a hill
2013 Mazda Mazda6:
Models: (percentage is expected sales of each model)
Sport Manual, Sport Automatic, Touring, Touring with technology package, Grand Touring, Grand Touring with advanced package
5% manual $20,880
25% automatic $22,495
26/38/30 mpg (tied with the Altima)
5% SKYACTIV manual $23,445
20% touring automatic $24,495
20% touring with technology $26,495
Heated mirrors, 11 speakers
25% grand touring SKYACTIV drive $29,495
8-way power seats, unique paint for 19-inch alloy wheels
(Delayed production) grand touring advanced package $31,575 i-eloop (regenerative braking system) no mpg yet
1. 2.5L DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder with VVT - Chain-driven dual overhead cams, 4 valves per cylinder with variable valve timing (VVT)
1. 184 horsepower @ 5,700 rpm/183 lb.-ft of torque @ 3,250 rpm
2. Diesel to be announced at a later date
Length/weight: 191.5 inches/Manual 3,183 pounds, Automatic 3,232 pounds (97 pounds lighter than the previous Mazda6)
Wheelbase: 111.4 inches
EPA fuel economy: Regular Unleaded gasoline
1. Manual 25/37/29 city/highway/combined
2. Automatic 26/38/30 mpg city/highway/combined
Cargo capacity: 14.8 cubic feet
Turning radius: 36.7 feet