HOFU, Japan — Mazda unveiled a host of new manufacturing technologies that will slash costs, cut lead times for new vehicles and enable flexible production of electrified cars, as the low-volume Japanese player gears up for battle in an increasingly cutthroat auto industry.
The production upgrades at the Hofu H2 assembly plant here in western Japan will underpin upcoming production of fresh offerings on a newly developed large-vehicle platform as well as a range of EVs that use batteries and motors instead of combustion engines.
The new manufacturing techniques also preview some of the flexible production methods Mazda will introduce at the new U.S. assembly plant in Alabama that it will jointly operate with Toyota Motor. Toyota began producing the Corolla Cross compact crossover at the Huntsville factory last month; Mazda is expected to also build a crossover there.
"We are now in a time when vehicle structure is changing quite rapidly," said Takeshi Mukai, Mazda's senior managing executive officer for global production, purchasing and logistics. "We want to find a good way to run flexibly. … We have taken flexible production to the next level."
Mazda's manufacturing push underscores the urgency of change confronting the small-size manufacturer, long known for its devotion to internal combustion. As competitors rush into EVs, Mazda is counting on its lean manufacturing prowess to engineer a path to efficiently manufacturing electrified and internal combustion vehicles on the same line.
In Japan, Mazda overhauled its Hofu H2 plant in August to shorten the production line, slim down the number of production processes and make room for a new battery subassembly line for electrified vehicles. The upgrades were completed Sept. 1 and unveiled publicly Oct. 6.
The new techniques enable an 80 percent reduction in the time Mazda needs to retool a line for a new-vehicle launch. And they cut the cost of that investment by 90 percent.
Key to the breakthrough is a new conveyor technology called the Traverse Dolly Line.
Instead of using fixed conveyors rooted in pits or hangers that dangle from lines along the ceilings, the new technique uses flat palette platforms that skate along dolly rollers.