The president of Mazda France, Phillipe Geffroy, discusses how technology is shaping cars and should be shaping car shows, how regulations could stall self-driving cars, and why there is still life in the traditional internal combustion engine even as electric and hybrid cars are starting to appeal to a wider audience.
Phillipe Geffroy feels that, like the rest of the automotive industry, motor shows need to start adapting to the technological revolution that is fast taking hold of every element of our lives.
"Motor shows have to revamp their current format to offer the public not only today's vision of the cars but also a better understanding of what are the various prospects in car technologies and uses," says the president of Mazda, France. "If not, it is likely that people will go to other shows or use digital tools to find out by themselves."
Mazda has a reputation for embracing and persevering with new technologies. For example, it's still the only car company to make a success of the rotary engine. Yet look at the company's current vehicle range and its cars can seem comparatively low-tech, especially when it comes to things like electric or hybrid power. "There is no real pressure coming from our customers for alternative fuel vehicles. Both in the US and Europe a minority of either wealthy customers, or companies willing to play the ecological image are buying EV," explains Geffroy.
This isn't a suggestion that EVs are a fashion accessory, but that currently, greater gains can be made from refining the traditional powertrain.
"[Mazda] believes there still is room for combustion engine, especially when you consider the complete carbon footprint," he says. "We've been working on weight reduction for a very long time. On the other hand, we also improved our engine efficiency thanks to our work on compression ratio. This allowed us to achieve low fuel consumption and emissions while maintaining great performances and driving pleasure."
For proof of the impact this has had, consider that the new MX-5, the 2016 World Car of the Year, comes with every modern refinement, yet is lighter than the original car launched in 1999. Or the fact that in 2016, for the fourth year running, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) named Mazda the most fuel efficient car maker in America.
"However, we will go on working on other types of engine like electric, hybrid or hydrogen," continues Geffroy, "With the clear objective to improve them and commercialize them when ready to provide a customer service comparable to the one of combustion engines."
In that respect he, like most in the industry, are concerned that increasing regulation could force something to market before it's truly ready. And it is the same concern that tempers his enthusiasm regarding other technological developments within the industry such as autonomous driving and the potential for things like car-sharing and mobility on demand.
"What can be worrying is how regulations evolve -- especially their slow progress or their instability because if the regulations are not stable no one can invest in the adequate technologies nor implement them," he explains.