LOS ANGELES – Mazda Motor Corp. will take the wraps off its next-generation Tribute small cross/utility vehicle at January’s Detroit auto show, says Jim O’Sullivan, president and CEO-Mazda North American Operations.

Speaking after Mazda’s unveiling of the Nagare concept car here at the L.A. Auto Show, O’Sullivan says the Tribute will retain its name and not be known as the CX-5 when it goes on sale in the U.S. late next year.

Mazda already sells the CX-7 midsize CUV and in January will begin sales of its CX-9 large CUV.

O’Sullivan says a hybrid-electric vehicle version of the Mazda Tribute, which shares its basic architecture with the Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner midsize CUVs, will be available on a limited basis.

Mazda has been providing HEV variants of the current-generation Tribute to fire departments in Southern California as a test fleet.

“We’re probably going to have (the new HEV) very limited to begin with,” O’Sullivan says. “We’ll see how the market reaction is. All I’ve got to say at this point is watch this space.”

Meanwhile, the auto maker says many of the Nagare concept’s design elements will make their way into future Mazda models, including the 5-point grille that will become a key element.

Nagare, which means “flow” in Japanese, is meant to depict motion in its design.

Most striking is what can best be described as pleats in the sheet metal along the side of the car and along the edges of the hood.

“Nagare’s side surfaces provide a means of visualizing the air flowing along and over the car as it speeds through the atmosphere,” Mazda says. “Light and shadow combine to convey this feeling of motion even when the car is still.”

The vehicle seats four, with three passengers in the rear and the driver’s seat centrally located up front.

The two gull-wing doors are double-length and hinged to open upward like butterfly wings.

Laurens van den Acker, Mazda’s new head of global design, says the Nagare is looking toward Mazda circa 2020, but an upcoming concept for the Detroit show is feasible for production in the next decade.

A third concept planned for the Geneva auto show this spring will foreshadow Mazda design in “the very near future,” he says.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com