It’s a very long way to Hiroshima, Mazda’s HQ. You wouldn’t want to start from here, but it’s a 12-hour flight to Tokyo Narita from the UK, over an hour to Tokyo’s main railway station and another four hours (and 800km) on the quickest of Japan’s bullet trains.
It was my first visit to the city and when we arrived, we were tipped straight into a tour of the Peace Museum which was – along with the rather chilling view of the skeletal remains of the Atomic bomb dome – all rather thought-provoking.
Mazda’s U2 plant is an extraordinary, sprawling, space running along one of Hiroshima’s outlets into the sea, and along the sea front itself. From one end to the other, the factory site is 7km long. Built in 1972, it has its own bus service and 37 individual bus stops. Mazda built a bridge to link the two sites, which sees 1200 truck movements per day, shifting components to the production lines.
Mazda bosses were most proud of the engine factory, which was just ramping up production of the new super-frugal SkyActiv petrol engines. These are built alongside the big 3.7-litre V6, which is fitted to CX-7 SUV. The SkyActiv engines are not just technically extremely clever, but the way they are made has also been completely re-thought. Current four-cylinder engine manufacturing requires 45 machining operations and 15 assembly operations, the SkyActiv units require just four machining process and six assembly operations.