While its new "SKY" lines of gasoline and diesel engines should go far in helping Mazda meet its announced goal of increasing the average fuel economy of its vehicle fleet by 2015, the automaker does remain noticeably behind when it comes to the hybrid side of the automotive equation. That's set to change thanks to a contract it recently signed to license electric-assist technology from Toyota. According to Mazda, the automaker's first gas-electric offering is slated to make its debut in the home market in 2013 and feature a combination of the next-gen SKY engines and Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system. The release also confirmed that Mazda is now implementing a "Building Block Strategy" focused on enhancing the core aspects of its vehicles -- including engines, transmissions and weight reduction -- and then progressively add hybrid systems as well as supplemental electronic elements such as stop/start and regenerative braking.

"We want to develop a hybrid car quickly," said Mazda Executive Vice President Masaharu Yamaki, although he did not indicate if or when it might be sold outside of Japan. Currently, the automaker's sole hybrid offering in the U.S. is the Mazda Tribute Hybrid, a rebadged/retrimmed version of the Ford Escape Hybrid which uses a Ford-developed hybrid package. However with Ford's stepping away from what was once a controlling ownership in Mazda, the Hiroshima-based carmaker has clearly decided a new course of action was required to ensure it a competitive position in this emerging market segment.

For its part, Toyota Motor Corporation, which already licenses its Hybrid Synergy Drive package to Nissan, said it recognizes the importance of benefiting the environment by encouraging the popularization of its eco-friendly technologies. Given that fact, it also will consider similar requests from other companies to supply hybrid technology.

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