Mazda reveals upmarket ambitions

* Plan could take up to 10 years * New CX-5 is first step * Hybrid, electric and range-extenders...

Mazda reveals upmarket ambitions

Mazda plans to develop a more upmarket image and wants to be seen as Japans Volkswagen, insiders have revealed to What Car?.

Sources revealed the new CX-5 crossover is the first step in the company's 10-year plan to reach its upmarket goal. Mazda has studied Audi and believes its recent history is a good example of how to build a premium brand from a less prestigious starting point.

Mazda admits that its CX-7 sits uncomfortably between compact- and full-sized SUVs in terms of its size and price. Thats why it is launching the CX-5 to compete at the compact end. It then plans to replace the CX-7 with a larger 4x4 that is likely to be called the CX-8. The production CX-5 will be at next month's Frankfurt motor show

Hybrid, fully electric and range-extended electric cars are being developed to rival the Toyota Prius, Nissan Leaf and Vauxhall Ampera.

Mazdas hybrid will use Toyota technology and should hit the market in 2013. The development of Mazdas fully electric Leaf rival is also on track for release in 2013, although there are no plans to bring this model to Europe.

A rotary engine will be used in Mazdas range-extender electric car. The Wankel unit, already in development, is ideal as a generator. Its small, light and ideally suited to working at constant speeds. The range-extender car will be sold in Europe, but theres no date for this yet.

The Mazda 6 will be replaced in 2012, and the new car will use the CX-5s Skyactiv engines, gearboxes and platform. The third-generation Mazda 3 will use the platform too.

Even though the 6 platform is flexible enough, the next Mazda 2 wont use it on cost grounds. Mazda is currently talking to other manufacturers about the possibility of co-developing a supermini platform to help keep costs down.

Every model in the current Mazda line-up will be replaced with cars that use its new Skyactiv tech within the next five years. From now on, all Mazda hatches, estates and SUVs will have a new fully electric power steering system. Mazda claims the system provides as much feedback as a hydraulic set-up.

All next-generation cars will be significantly lighter than the cars they replace, too. Mazda is currently exploring the possibility of using alternative materials in its future cars to help reduce weight including the carbonfibre-reinforced plastic that BMWs i cars will be made from.

Mazda is also keen to build a pure rotary sports car (future RX-7), but more mainstream models will have to sell well to pay for its development.