Shaking up the midsize segment

  • 25-Mar-2013 02:33 EDT

Ruben Archilla, Group Manager, Advanced Engineering, Research & Development, Mazda North American Operations.

The 2014 Mazda6 is the second production vehicle to feature the full suite of Skyactiv technologies—the automaker’s clean-sheet approach to gaining efficiency down to the component level. At launch, the all-new midsize sedan features the Skyactiv-G 2.5-L gasoline engine that produces 184 hp (137 kW) at 5700 rpm and 185 lb·ft (251 N·m) at 3250 rpm; a Skyactiv-D 2.2-L clean diesel engine will be offered in the second half of the year. When paired with the optional Skyactiv-Drive automatic transmission, highway fuel economy increases by nearly 27% from the previous version to 38 mpg.

AEI Assistant Editor Matthew Monaghan recently caught up with Ruben Archilla, Group Manager, Advanced Engineering, Research & Development, Mazda North American Operations, to discuss the vehicle’s development:

Can you describe your position and role in the development program?

One aspect of my position is doing advanced technologies research related to advanced powertrain technology and human-machine interface and infotainment systems development. The other aspect is basically traditional vehicle development, so that involves benchmarking at the very early stages in the product development as well as testing and tuning prototype vehicles during development.

We were involved from the beginning with the engineers in Hiroshima to do the competitive vehicle benchmarking and target setting for the platform as well as for the Mazda6 specifically. Then in the course of development we did evaluation and testing of the vehicle in market at each step of the development from the first prototype through the final design completion.

How were the Skyactiv components developed to be scalable across a variety of vehicles?

When we first started the process, we had a framework in mind of the segments in which we compete, and we wanted as much as possible to be able to use a common architecture or common approach for each one of those. We designed from the beginning the platform with the intention of making it scalable from something like a Mazda3 up to something like a CX-9 using the same fundamental layout, and just being able to scale basic dimensions like wheelbase and floor height. We kind of started from the beginning with the powertrain approach and the platform approach to be able to make it scalable in the volume segments.

Were there different challenges with the Mazda6 compared with the CX-5 using the same hardware?

Generally speaking, good suspension geometry and a lightweight, rigid structure are kind of fundamentally good things, so it makes the job easier regardless of what kind of vehicle you’re specifically working on. I think that’s an example of, if you get the fundamentals right, it benefits everything from an SUV to a passenger sedan. We benchmarked the CX-5 a lot when we did the final tuning for the Mazda6. I think that says a lot about how good we were able to get the CX-5 using this new hardware.

When moving from the previous Mazda6 to the new version, did you pinpoint specific development targets?

Everybody tries to make their cars better with every generation, but the targets for the new Mazda6 were unanimously higher than the previous car in just about every respect. We wanted to be more fun to drive and have a more firm and composed ride and more nimble handling compared to everybody else. The biggest difference from the target setting standpoint is that we wanted to advance our position relative to the segment in terms of fuel economy.

What spurred you to pursue automotive engineering?

Growing up, my grandfather always had a Harley-Davidson, a Corvette, and a small plane, so I grew up taking things apart and putting them back together and raced motorcycles when I was a kid. By the time I was deciding where to go to college, I went to school to study engineering with the idea that I’d like to work in the car industry when I graduated. It was probably a combination of luck and timing that got me into Mazda. I had warm feelings for Mazda before I ever sent my resume here because I had a B2600 pickup truck when I was a teenager and remember poring over the road test in Car and Driver of the first-gen RX-7 with the 13B motor.

What was that transition like, going from university to the professional world?

I went to school at Loyola Marymount University and the engineering program there is relatively small, and I think going from that environment to Mazda was kind of a natural progression. Mazda really does work like a smaller company. You have the opportunity to get involved in a lot of things that are kind of outside having a narrow job description. It really kind of feels like a small place, and I think that works pretty well with my own personal background as well as the experience that I had in school.

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