ANALYSIS - Mazda vehicle architectures and future models

By Glenn Brooks | 20 September 2017

RX-Vision was a concept at the 2015 Tokyo motor show. What will the 2017 show bring?

RX-Vision was a concept at the 2015 Tokyo motor show. What will the 2017 show bring?

Having invested heavily in a lightweight architecture, a family of highly efficient engines and an ever expanding range of SUVs, Mazda is thriving. The company's size and its lack of expertise in the area of electrification are potential weaknesses but an alliance with Toyota appears to be a sensible move to address those concerns.

When it comes to manufacturing, Mazda's global spread is good, with manufacturing or assembly plants in Japan, China, Thailand, Mexico, South Africa, Ecuador, Vietnam, Malaysia and Russia. The missing piece in the puzzle during recent years has been North America, Mazda having stopped making cars at a JV factory in Michigan which now produces only Ford vehicles.

Mazda's CEO Masamichi Kogai is keen to see the company do better in the US, the aim being to steadily gain market share and lift sales significantly beyond the 298,000 vehicles which it sold there in 2016. To do that, local production is key. Which is why, in August, Mazda and Toyota announced a joint venture to build vehicles in the United States. This will be at a new plant, the location of which is yet to be named. The companies will also work together on technologies for electric vehicles and connected cars, while also collaborating on safety technologies. This builds on a partnership which already sees TMC providing hybrid know-how to its smaller partner as well as Mazda building Toyota branded small cars for North American markets.

The US factory is set to build its first cars in 2021, and to have a capacity of 300,000 vehicles per annum. Mazda says it will make several crossover models - likely to be the next CX-3 and CX-5 - while Toyota will be adding yet more production of the Corolla sedan to what it already has at other plants in the US and Canada.

In Europe, Mazda still depends entirely on imported products, though this hasn't stopped it from becoming ever more successful in the region. While its share of the US market is 1.7 per cent, across EU and EFTA nations, it's even less - just 1.5 per cent, which translates to 155,309 vehicles delivered during the year to the end of August. Nonetheless, that still places it ahead of Jaguar Land Rover (146,345) and significantly more successful than Honda (94,403).

China is yet another major market where Mazda does well, but could certainly do better. In common with its far larger Japanese rivals, it has been able to benefit from the collapse of Hyundai and Kia sales, but deliveries of Mazda branded models will likely number only around 50,000 vehicles by year end on current monthly trends. The best selling model for the year to date is the Mazda3 Axela, followed by the CX-5. Things should improve from this month, with the new generation CX-5 having just started being built in Nanjing by the Changan JV.

Finally, Japan. Here, the company from Hiroshima retains its traditional sixth position, with 142,724 sales for the 1 January to 31 August period, giving it 3.9 per cent of the market and safely ahead of Subaru (123,027). The brand has only two vehicles in the top 30, though, that being the Demio (Mazda2) with sales of 34,414 units and the CX-5, with 28,081.

Kei cars

The Carol is a five-door Kei class hatchback. It went on sale in Japan, its main market, in January 2015. The current shape model is once more a slightly altered Suzuki Alto and is manufactured by Suzuki. The successor model should appear just after the arrival of the next Suzuki WagonR in early 2020.

The Flair is the company's newest mini vehicle. The current generation was in Japanese dealerships in early 2017. It is a version of the Suzuki WagonR and comes with a standard mild hybrid powertrain. Expect a facelift in 2020 and a replacement in 2022.

The Flair Crossover, available in Japan since early 2014, is powered by a 658cc three-cylinder engine. Both 38kW and turbocharged 47kW versions are offered, each with a standard CVT and the option of front- or all-wheel drive. Launched simultaneously with the near identical Suzuki Hustler, it is built by Suzuki and supplied to one of Mazda's domestic market sales channels. Both models are due to be replaced towards the end of 2018.

The second generation of the Flair Wagon is, like the first, supplied by Suzuki. This model is a lightly modified Suzuki Spacia. The third generation Flair Wagon should be on sale in Japan in late 2017. It will again be manufactured by Suzuki. As with the next generation of the Flair Crossover, the platform switches to the more modern Heartect.

The Scrum is the fifth of Mazda's five home market Kei models. This one too is supplied by Suzuki. A tiny MPV, it is very similar to the Every Wagon and comes down the same line at SMC's Iwata plant. Both the Suzuki and the Mazda, plus the Nissan NV100 Clipper Rio, will be due for a facelift in 2020. The next generations of all three should then appear in 2024 after a nine-year production run.

B segment

The Demio (Mazda2 in markets outside Japan) five-door hatchback has been in production at the Hofu plant south-east of Hiroshima in July 2014 and then at AutoAlliance in Thailand two months later. In June 2011, Mazda had however revealed that the then next generation Mazda2 would be built at a future plant in Mexico from 2013, as would the third generation Mazda3.

The MMVO Salamanca plant in Mexico has a capacity of 140,000 vehicles a year, operating on two shifts. In January 2013 Mazda stated that it intended to expand the facility to 230,000 cars a year by 2016 but then in October 2014, this was lifted to 250,000 by 2016. The third generation Mazda3 was the first model to be made at MMVO, production having started there in January 2014.

In November 2012, Mazda announced that MMVO would also build up to 50,000 units per annum of a Mazda2-based model for Toyota. Production would commence in "summer 2015". This turned out to be the Scion iA, a restyled Mazda2 sedan. The US importer does not offer the Mazda2 in either sedan or hatchback forms. The car is sold in some parts of North America though: the Mazda2 was new for the 2016 model year in Mexico and Puerto Rico. With the winding up of the Scion brand during CY2016, the former iA became the Toyota Yaris iA for North America's 2017 model year.

In August 2013, Mazda stated that it would also make so-called Skyactiv petrol engines at Salamanca. This plant, which has a capacity of 230,000 engines per year, commenced operations in October 2014. The first Mazda2 was built at MMVO the same month.

The Hazumi concept which premiered at the 2014 Geneva motor show was a preview of the Demio/Mazda2. Another world premiere at Geneva 2014, the Skyactiv-D 1.5 engine, is available in the Mazda2 in Europe and certain other regions. In June 2014, Mazda announced that the Demio would be offered in Japan with the (77kW/250Nm) 1,497cc diesel. The company claims the engine has the lowest compression ratio of any small displacement diesel engine - 14.8:1. As well as the diesel, there are 1.3- and 1.5-litre petrol engines. The former is available in Japan, and the latter in Europe. The 1.5-litre engines are available with several power outputs.

Demio sales began in Japan during September 2014, with petrol front-wheel drive versions coming first, followed a month later by diesel/FWD variants, with all-wheel drive cars added in December 2014. The Mazda2 sedan had its world premiere at the Thailand International Motor Expo in November 2014. Like the five-door, it is locally built.

Next up for this B segment model will be a facelift and this should appear by year-end. The future Demio/Mazda2 is then due for release in 2020.

C segment

The third generation Axela (Japan) and Mazda3 (most overseas markets) was announced in June 2013. Sales commenced from October 2013 (November in Japan).

For the first time in the history of the Mazda3/Axela, this model uses a platform that is Mazda's own (i.e. not shared with Ford Motor Company vehicles). The architecture shares most of its modules with the third generation Atenza/Mazda6. The car is said to weigh some 90kg less than the old model. It has the same 2,700mm wheelbase as the CX-5, the vehicle which introduced Mazda's latest range-wide architecture for its front- and all-wheel drive vehicles.

Apart from in Japan and at the MMVO (Mazda de Mexico Vehicle Operation) plant at Salamanca, the company builds the car in Thailand and China. Thai production got underway in March 2014 and Chinese build one month later. In the PRC, the third generation car is the Mazda3 Axela. The second generation model remains in production there as the Mazda3 Xingcheng.

In August 2013, Mazda stated that it would also make engines at Salamanca. This plant, which has a capacity of 230,000 engines per year, commenced operations in October 2014. MMVO built its first car, a Mazda3, in January 2014. Cars from the Mexican plant are for the Americas and Europe.

North America's 2016 model year Mazda3 was announced in June 2015. Apart from a price cut for the base trim and some adjustments to standard equipment in other model grades, it was unchanged. A facelifted Axela was announced for the Japanese market in July 2016. North America's 2017 Mazda3 also had the styling changes.

The fourth generation Axela/Mazda3 should be on sale in Japan in just over a year's time. It is expected to be the first model for SkyActiv2, the company's next generation architecture, and also for its homogeneous charge compression ignition engine. Claimed to offer 30% better fuel economy than equivalent existing petrol engines, the new one is like a diesel in that it uses pressure rather than spark plugs to ignite the fuel. Mazda calls this technology 'SkyActiv-X'.

D/E segment

There are two generations of the Atenza/Mazda6 in production, though the older car is now built only in China. The J61 series model was made in Japan and the USA between late 2007 and 2013. The Chinese-built version, the Ruiyi (or Ruiwing), has been made at the FAW joint venture since January 2009. It went on sale in China three months later and has a standard 2.5-litre engine. It remains the only car from this generation model series which is still in production. FAW is expected to continue making its version of the second generation Atenza/Mazda6 until early 2018.

Production of J71, the third-generation Atenza, commenced at the Hofu No. 2 plant in August 2012. The first car off the line was a Mazda6 wagon built to European specification. The car's global debut with Mazda6 badges was at the Moscow motor show in August 2012. The estate's world premiere was at the Paris motor show one month later. There is no five-door hatchback body style with the current car, only the sedan and wagon.

The company built the first and second generation cars at the Flat Rock plant in Michigan but the third generation sedan for North America is sourced from Japan. The plant is still co-owned by Mazda and Ford but only Fords are built there now.

Flat Rock or AAI (AutoAlliance International), started as a Mazda factory in 1987. It became a joint venture with Ford in 1982, three years after the firms became global manufacturing partners. Ford bought 25% of the then struggling Japanese carmaker in 1979, lifting its stake to 33.4% in 1996. Seeking to raise cash of its own, Ford sold down its stake to 3.5% in 2010.

In November 2011, Mazda announced that it had signed an MoU with OJSC Sollers for the production of 'several Mazda nameplates' at a plant in Vladivostok, in Russia's Far Eastern Federal District. The Mazda6 sedan would be one of the models, Mazda confirmed in April 2012. The other is the CX-5. Sollers began making the Mazda6 in April 2013.

The current shape car was new for North America's 2013 model year, carried over for the 2014 model year, and again for the 2015 model year. A facelifted sedan had its world premiere at the LA auto show in November 2014: this was North America's 2016 model year Mazda6. It went on sale in North America and Japan in January 2015 and in other regions soon after. All-wheel drive is available in certain markets. For North America's 2017 model year, the Mazda6 gained G-Vectoring Control.

The car entered production in China in April 2014 at the FAW Car Co., Ltd. (FCC) plant in Changchun. Local sales commenced during the following month.

One unusual feature of the car is that the sedan has a longer wheelbase than the wagon. The four-door model is also a longer car than the Tourer.

The fourth generation Atenza will likely appear first in Japan during 2018. There is a chance that a concept or pre-production model might appear at the Tokyo motor show this October. Given how successful the CX-5 continues to be, Mazda may not replace the estate.

Crossovers and SUVs

Mazda began selling the CX-3, a rival for the Nissan Juke, Renault Captur, Chevrolet Trax, Ford EcoSport and others in the global B-SUV segment, from February 2015. Japan was the first market and unusually, it offers only a diesel engine there. The CX-3 can be thought of as a crossover version of the Mazda2/Demio. A preview of the CX-3 appeared at November 2014's LA auto show.

As well as at one of the Ujina plants in Hiroshima, the CX-3 has been built at Rayong in Thailand since October 2015. Production in Nanjing by the Changan-Mazda joint venture should follow later in 2017. European market variants offer buyers the choice of three engines: a petrol Skyactiv-G 2.0-litre in two power versions and the Skyactiv-D 1.5-litre diesel which was a world premiere at the 2014 Geneva motor show. Six-speed automatic and manual transmissions are offered either in front-wheel drive format or with all-wheel drive.

Mazda told the media at the 2014 LA show that it was hoping to sell around 150,000 units annually of the model. The US importer announced the CX-3 for its market in July 2015. There, it was new for the 2016 model year and comes with just one engine and transmission: a 2.0-litre in combination with a six-speed automatic. There were no changes for the 2017 model year.

Production at Hofu 1, a plant in the Japanese city, was added in December 2016. A facelift is due in 2018. The next CX-3 is set for release in 2021.

The 4,633mm long CX-4 was previewed by the Koeru ('succeed' in Japanese), a concept revealed at September 2015's Frankfurt IAA. The prototype was based upon the first generation CX-5 but 60mm longer and wider. It could be thought of a kind of 'CX-5 Coupe'.

This additional crossover is manufactured in the northeast of China by the FAW Mazda joint venture. It entered production in June 2016, taking the place of an aged Mazda6 sedan. Changchun might not be the car's only global manufacturing plant, though, with build also expected to take place in Japan. The CX-4 had its world premiere at the Beijing motor show in April 2016. Whether or not it will be exported to North America is yet to be confirmed but this is a possibility.

A mid-life update will most likely be revealed in 2020. The second generation CX-4 is due out in 2023.

The current CX-5 had its global debut at the LA auto show in November 2016. In North America, this second generation model was new for the region's 2017 model year.

Japan was the car's first market, sales commencing there in February, with exports following soon after. Around three quarters of the CX-5s sold in the home market should have a diesel engine, as buyers there like the extra fuel economy this engine offers, plus diesel is cheaper than petrol in Japan.

Depending on the market, up to three engines are available: 2.0- and 2.5-litre petrol and 2.2-litre diesel. All have four cylinders.

Mazda sold more than 1.5 million examples of the the first generation CX-5, the car having accounted for 25% of the brand's worldwide sales. The new car is a rebodying of the original. It is 10mm shorter and 20mm lower, while the 2,700mm wheelbase is identical.

The company hopes to sell an annual average of 400,000 CX-5s over the car's five-year lifecycle.

Changan Mazda began building the second generation CX-5 in September.

A 5+2 seater variant is said to be planned for the Japanese market and possibly elsewhere from late 2017. This might be the reason why, in March 2017, Mazda stated that production would be added at Hofu 1. This plant in the Japanese city will begin building the CX-5 in November.

The third generation CX-5 could be one of the SUVs which Mazda Motor and Toyota Motor Corporation announced they would build at a future US plant.

The CX-8 is an additional SUV for the Mazda range. In Japan, it is also the effective replacement for a large minivan, the MPV/Mazda8. Also, Mazda does not sell the CX-9 there.

The CX-8 will have a standard 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel engine and come in 6 or 7 seater forms. Sales will commence in December. The engine has been updated so that power rises from 129 to 140 kilowatts and maximum torque from 420 to 450 Newton metres. All variants, whether FWD or AWD, will have a six-speed automatic transmission.

Mazda has not mentioned any export markets as yet although the Australian importer is said to be assessing the vehicle.

The CX-8 is 4,900mm long, 1,840mm wide and 1,730mm high. That compares to the corresponding dimensions of 5,075mm, 1,969mm and 1,747mm for the CX-9.

The second generation CX-9 switched from the original model's CD3 architecture to the platform introduced by the first generation CX-5. Unlike the original CX-9, the current one is powered by a new version of Mazda's 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol turbo engine (instead of a V6). Mazda calls this engine the SKYACTIV-G 2.5T. its output is quoted as 184kW (250PS) and 420Nm (North American version).

The CX-9 had its world premiere at the LA auto show in November 2015, with production commencing in February 2016. US market sales began in April 2016, followed by sales in Australia, two months later.

At the time of its release, North America was expected to account for 80% of the projected annual CX-9 sales of 50,000 units with Australia the second largest market. This model is not available in Europe. It will be added to the Russian market in October.

The CX-9 successor should be on sale from 2023. The current model is expected to be refreshed in 2019.


The current Mazda BT-50 is the twin of the Ford Ranger and these are based on Ford's ladder frame T6 chassis. They were first seen at the Sydney motor show in October 2010. BT-50 production started in mid-2011 and there was a facelift in July 2015. There should be another facelift during 2018.

The next generation model for markets in mostly southern Asia will not be a joint venture with Ford. Both the BT-50 and Ford Ranger are presently manufactured in the same shared Thai plant but Mazda stated in July 2016 that Isuzu is to supply its next pick-up. Later that month Isuzu told the media that its collaboration with GM on the development of midsize pick-up trucks made in Thailand had ceased. Therefore, the deal to make the BT-50 from 2021 is obviously a very important one for Isuzu. The agreement is to last for ten years.


The Axela Hybrid has approximately one more year of production before it is replaced by a petrol-electric version of the next generation Mazda3/Axela. The current model was Mazda's first petrol-electric production vehicle. The car's public debut was at the Tokyo motor show in November 2013.

It has a 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G petrol engine and one electric motor and the car is available solely in Japan and as a sedan only. There is no five-door hatchback due, the company says, to potential packaging issues with the batteries. The cells are based on those used for the third generation Toyota Prius and arranged in a line behind the back seat: there is no split-fold capability for the rear bench as there is on non-hybrid Axela/Mazda3 sedans.

Mazda's first series production electric car is under development, the company's head of R&D, Kiyoshi Fujiwara, stated in an interview at the 2016 LA auto show. However, the firm will only sell this vehicle in markets where EVs are popular. That includes Norway, but no other countries were named by the R&D boss. The model in question is likely to be based upon the Mazda2 or Mazda3, though there is a chance it could be an electric version of the CX-3 or CX-5. The car will likely go on sale in 2019.

There is also expected to be an electrified version of the next Axela/Mazda3. Rather than being electric, sources claim this model will have a Wankel (rotary) engine as a range extender. The model names of Axela-E and RX-E have been suggested.

Sports cars

The latest Roadster (MX-5 in countries outside Japan) is shorter and weighs less than the third generation car. It introduced a fresh rear-wheel drive architecture. Production commenced in March 2015 and the car went on sale in Japan two months later.

The fourth generation model weighs 100kg less than the previous one which is partly explained by the bonnet, bootlid and front wings being aluminium.

The engine choice is between 1.5- and 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol units. The larger of these is standard in the US, where the MX-5 went on sale in August  2015 for the 2016 model year. Both six-speed manual and automatic gearboxes are offered.

A replacement for the plastic-top MX-5/Roadster had its world premiere at the New York auto show in March 2016. Unlike the previous roadster-coupe, the replacement model has fastback styling. Its name reflects that: MX-5 RF (Retractable Fastback).

Production of the RF commenced in October 2016. This is at Ujina 1, the plant near Mazda's HQ in Hiroshima which makes the MX-5/Roadster as well as the Fiat 124 Spider and Abarth 124 Spider. Japan was the first market for the RF, cars going on sale there in late 2016, followed by Europe and North America during the first quarter of 2017.

The next news for this model series should be the arrival of facelifted cars in mid-2018. The fifth generation Roadster/MX-5 should be released during 2022. This will probably again be based on Mazda's SkyActiv RWD platform.

No report on the future of Mazda would be complete without mention of the on-again/off-again idea of a successor for the RX-8. Such a car, once thought to be due for launch during 2011, had been expected to share the frontal styling of the rotary-engined Furai concept which premiered at the 2008 Detroit show. There was also to be a new rotary engine, the 16X, and a possible hybrid variant. Unlike the RX-8, the RX-9 would reportedly be a two-door car which would share the MX-5/Roadster's rear-wheel drive platform.

Clarification from Mazda over its specific intentions for the next model to run a rotary engine is awaited. The company stated in October 2011 that it would cease RX-8 build in the northern hemisphere summer of 2012 but that it intended to continue developing rotary engine technology.

The last Renesis rotary engine was built in Japan in June 2012. The new 16X was said to offer improved fuel consumption, as well as more torque than the old Renesis and better emissions.

The RX-9 had at one stage been expected to be revealed at next month's Tokyo motor show. This would coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first production Mazda to have a dual-rotor engine, the Cosmo Sport. The RX-Vision, a rotary-powered coupe concept, appeared at the 2015 Tokyo show. A new engine, evolved from the experimental 16X, is said to be called 'SkyActiv-R'.

In December 2016, Mazda CEO Masamichi Kogai appeared to state in an interview that the RX-9 project was again on hold. However, his comment was soon clarified: he said that a future Mazda sports car would not have a Wankel engine as a range extender. The sports car project appears to be on hold until Mazda feels the company itself is financially much stronger than it was considered to be in 2016. So an 'RX-9' may well be still on track for a worldwide release from 2020.

Earlier in September, Mazda insiders hinted to the media that a new rotary-engined concept would appear at the Tokyo motor show. A sports car powered by a rotary engine will, some say, appear in 2020 as a celebration of Mazda's 100th birthday.

Future model plan reports for other manufacturers can be viewed in the OEM product strategy summaries section of just-auto.com.

Future product program intelligence

Additional data on vehicle lifetime and future product plans, such as code names, production plants and expected annual build, are available in PLDB from QUBE.

The next make for just-auto's in-depth examination of current and future models will be Changan Automobile Company.