Mazda Cautious On Hybrids, Diesels; Committed To Higher MPG

August 21, 2009
Mazda i-Stop

Mazda i-Stop

If you're a U.S. shopper looking for a Mazda in the next several years, it probably won't be a hybrid, an electric vehicle, or even a diesel. Instead of focusing on any one of those costly technologies in its upcoming vehicles, Mazda is planning to deliver a full range of lighter vehicles that incorporate many new fuel-saving technologies.

However, according to research and development head Seita Kanai, Mazda probably won't be bringing i-Stop, a fuel-saving feature that's already offered on Japan-market Mazda3 models, as soon as it might otherwise have because of the way that EPA fuel economy cycles are figured.

Although i-Stop yields a fuel-economy improvement of 2 or 3 mpg—up to ten percent—in real-world city driving, the feature, which shuts off the engine when either at a stop or if coasting at less than about 2 mph, wouldn't change the vehicles' EPA City rating—and thus wouldn't make a discernible difference to shoppers.

Mazda is currently working along with several other automakers and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers in appealing that the EPA acknowledges the improvement.

2008 Los Angeles auto show

2008 Los Angeles auto show

i-Stop is one of several incremental technologies that Kanai explained—in a technology briefing to the press this week—could together improve fuel economy by up to 50 percent. The automaker is on track to improve its fuel economy by 30 percent by 2016, well ahead of new federal regulations.

Other elements of Mazda's strategy, after i-Stop, include the establishment of technologies that will be used eventually in mass-market hybrids, including regenerative braking.

In the mean time, we'll see a series of "breakthrough technologies" to avoid the rise in cost due to these fuel-economy and emissions advancements. New direct-injection gasoline engines will have higher power output, smaller displacement, and greater efficiency, while the company's new single nano tech catalyst reduces the need for costly precious metals.

Also part of the plan is a next-generation automatic transmission that Kanai said provides the quick, direct shift quality of a double-clutch automated manual while improving fuel economy by up to seven percent versus existing hydraulic automatics. "No slip means there won't be wasteful heat generation," commented Kanai.

Weight reduction is another piece of the puzzle, and Mazda officials said that 3-5 mpg could be accomplished here alone—especially through the use of lighter-weight structural materials, new bonding technologies, and an overall chassis weight savings of 15 percent of more.

Mazda is cautiously counting on diesel to be a part of the market; it's already working on a next-generation engine that's lighter, greener, and smaller, with dramatically decreased particulate matter and NOx. However, Kanai said that the automaker has no plans for diesel in the U.S. market—mainly because it doesn't currently have an automatic transmission for its diesel.

With all of these technologies in the hopper, Mazda is looking in great shape to meet the higher efficiency expectations of shoppers, and of the U.S. government, but even looking to 2015 and beyond Mazda isn't placing its bets on hybrids or diesels to be the catch-all.

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