Special Coverage

Greater L.A. Auto Show

LOS ANGELES – The fate of the rotary engine is spelled out clearly by Mazda CEO and President Takashi Yamanouchi: It’s staying.

“I’m very attached to the rotary engine, (and) as long as I’m president it will continue,” he tells media on the first press day of the Los Angeles auto show.

Kiyoshi Fujiwara, Mazda executive officer-product planning and powertrain development, told WardsAuto in July there was “huge discussion” within the Hiroshima, Japan-based company whether to continue with the rotary.

Economic hardship had put the piston-less engine program on the chopping block, he said.

The rotary’s future in the U.S. is less clear. Currently, the only model available here with the rotary mill is the RX-8 sports car, which is being discontinued.

Yamanouchi says Mazda’s goal is to reach global sales of 1.7 million vehicles annually in four years, up from 1.3 million now. Worldwide market share is seen steady at 2%.

North American Operations CEO Jim O’Sullivan says the U.S., Canada and Mexico will make up a significant portion of the 400,000-unit predicted global growth.

The new CX-5 compact cross/utility vehicle unveiled here and the compact segment as a whole, which also includes the Mazda3, “is a very key growth driver for us” based on customer movement toward smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles, O’Sullivan says.

Mazda just broke ground on a new vehicle-assembly plant in Salamanca, Mexico.

While its primary goal is to serve the burgeoning Latin American market, the new factory also could build Mazda2 subcompacts and Mazda3s for the U.S. and Canada.

“Right now, the outlook for the yen coming back doesn’t seem to be bright, and also the Japanese government’s negotiation on trade is still not (settled),” Yamanouchi says.

“So if this kind of environment continues, we will study the possibility of increasing the production capacity in Mexico to supply Mazda2 and Mazda3s to the North American market.”

The new plant, slated to begin operations in fiscal 2013, will be located about 155 miles (250 km) northwest of Mexico City and have annual capacity for 140,000 vehicles.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com