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Mazda Australia waiting for EV, AV infrastructure

Active participant: There is no firm date for a fully self-driving Mazda, but the next iteration for the company will be the Co-pilot system that rolls out in 2025 (i-Activesense pictured).

Electric, autonomous tech in the works at Mazda but debate needed on infrastructure

29 May 2018

MAZDA Australia managing director Vinesh Bhindi says the company will be ready to roll out autonomous vehicle and electrified powertrain technology when the time is right – but that infrastructure and regulation needs to be sorted out first.
The Japanese car-maker’s announcement last year that it would make new autonomous driving technology – dubbed Mazda Co-Pilot – standard in all of its vehicles by 2025 was seen as lagging behind many of its competitors’ commitments.
Speaking with GoAuto at the Mazda6 launch in Victoria last week, Mr Bhindi said there was no set timeline for a fully self-driving Mazda model, and highlighted the issues relating to infrastructure and other elements that need to be dealt with first.
“The R&D community at Mazda headquarters are working on all sorts of things, but there are no firm dates and plans,” he said. “To a certain extent, there is a lot of foundation work that needs to be done, via governments and infrastructure and all of the other issues that have occurred with some brands.
“I have got to say, technology will allow it to happen, it is the other pieces of the puzzle that will either encourage it or be a distracter. And it is anybody’s guess.
“So Mazda will be in a position to offer all of those things should there be a demand in a viable business case.”
Mazda offers a number of ‘Level 1’ autonomous features under its i-Activesense suite of active safety technology, including radar cruise control (with stop and go) and lane-keep assist.
According to Mazda, the Co-Pilot system – which begins testing in 2020 – will only kick in when the driver has made an error or suffered a serious health issue.
In terms of electrified powertrain tech, Mazda is deliberately lagging behind its competitors after reaffirming its commitment to fuel-efficient internal combustion engines.
However, Mazda’s R&D department is believed to be working on various alternative powertrain technologies, including a range extender that uses a new-generation rotary engine.
When asked if he thought governments should introduce financial incentives and lead the development of charging infrastructure to help encourage the wider take-up of electrified vehicles, Mr Bhindi said there were several issues to tackle before it became mainstream.
“That’s a challenging topic because incentives may only be one piece of a big puzzle,” he said. “The government still has to play a part in energy generation. That has got to be right in the first place, and sufficient in the first place, before even considering incentives. 
“There are countries around the globe that have different strategies, from incentives to compliance-driven, to actually just saying to consumers, ‘There are benefits if you do, because you don’t have to pay all of these fees and charges and taxes and rates’ – and it creates an environment rather than direct incentives.”
Mr Bhindi said that technology was beating laws and regulation, and suggested that there should be more discussion about infrastructure in Australia.
“I think there is a lot more to this than meets the eye,” he said. “The electrification technology is probably the easiest part of the puzzle. People have done it. And innovation will drive that to be even better as time goes on. That’s the easy part.
“I am talking from an Australian point of view. I haven’t seen enough debate around infrastructure investment. We are still talking about fuel qualities here, forget electrification. We have got some challenges.” 
While many Australian importers have called on governments to provide financial incentives to EV buyers, Volkswagen Group Australia managing director Michael Bartsch and Kia Motors Australia chief operating officer Damien Meredith have both recently rejected the need for incentives and suggested that the market would dictate the take-up of electric cars.

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