This week's Japan Mobility Show isn't just an auto show; it's a technological show of force. Japan's automakers, long accused of dragging their heels in the race to battery electrification, are here to show the world they've got what it takes to compete with the likes of Tesla, the American and European and automakers and newcomers from China. But it looks like they're going to have some fun while they do this.
Case in point: the Mazda Iconic SP Concept, an electric vehicle that gets power from a very Mazda source and seems all but destined to inspire the next MX-5 Miata. Mazda has somehow simultaneously given us a lot to unpack here, and not a ton of details, but I'll do my best. It appears to be a two-seat sports car (Mazda doesn't count the seats here, but I can't see any in the back) that's powered by a "two-rotor rotary EV system." It's electric, hence the "Charge" logo on the digital dashboard. But those batteries are recharged by a rotary engine, like Mazda's iconic RX-7 and RX-8 cars, that the automaker says can run on various fuel types. It's rated at about 365 horsepower.
Gallery: Mazda Iconic SP Concept
Mazda doesn't say this, but to me, that could be where the "Iconic" name comes from; it feels like a kind of fusion of Miata and RX-7, in some ways, but with electrification for the modern era.
"Batteries are charged by recyclable energy sources, and the two-rotor rotary engine, used for power generation, is powered by carbon-neutral fuel," Mazda said in a news release. "The two-rotor rotary EV system, which utilizes a highly scalable rotary engine that can burn various fuels such as hydrogen, generates electricity with carbon-neutral fuel. In addition, when the battery is charged with electricity derived from renewable energy, it is possible to drive in a virtually carbon-neutral state." Technologically, it sounds very similar to the rotary range-extender Mazda MX-30 EV, although that engine had just one spinning triangle and not two.
Even more interestingly, the Iconic SP seems to have a plug and some V2X capabilities too: "In addition, although it is a sports car, it can supply power when enjoying outdoor leisure and in the time of a disaster." It's basically an RV, then.
I tend to count myself as a skeptic of e-fuels even as I think hydrogen, while often controversial, shouldn't be written off completely. Having said that, a battery-driven sports car that can derive electricity from various fuels is an interesting idea—though I would've loved to have seen Mazda just lean into the full EV idea here with this design. Because it is a fantastic design, and pretty clearly a more fleshed-out version of that Vision Study sports car concept Mazda teased last year.
In terms of size, Mazda says it's a little longer, wider, and packs a bigger wheelbase than the current ND Miata. But at 1,450 kg (3,196 pounds) it's quite a bit heftier than that car, too, which isn't surprising given that complex powertrain. It also appears to have an automatic transmission here operated by four toggle switches.
My take on the Iconic SP Concept is that it's very... concept-y. That hydrogen/e-fuel/rotary powertrain feels very unlikely for production, especially after the near-immediate failure of the MX-30. But it looks incredible, and it seems very likely to inform a future Miata of some sort, which is said to be electrified in some way – possibly a hybrid.
We do know Mazda has a lot of catching up to do on the electrification front. In the U.S., it only offers one plug-in hybrid with the expensive CX-90 three-row crossover while other rivals are racing full-steam ahead on EV power. But Mazda's trying to catch up. It's planning a bunch of new battery EVs for the end of this decade and will thankfully expand its hybrid lineup along the way too. With any luck, the automaker known for great designs and fun cars can find a way into an electrified future.
One way or another, I hope the design of the Iconic SP Concept makes it to reality. I don't think I would get tired of seeing that car around.