Mazda sticks with gasoline, admits 2025 challenge

Mazda‘s Masahiro Moro during a roundtable with Automotive News. “For 2021, we are very confident that we will meet the CAFE standards,” he said. “2025 is another story.” Photo credit: URSULA ZERILLI

DETROIT — Mazda may be leading the race toward the U.S. government’s more stringent fuel economy targets, but it’s about to hit a hard ceiling.

The Japanese automaker has no plans to fully electrify any of its models and is angling to sell more crossovers rather than the small models that now make up the bulk of its sales.

In a roundtable with Automotive News last week, Masahiro Moro, CEO of Mazda North American Operations, acknowledged that hitting the 2025 model year federal corporate average fuel economy regulations will be tough but said the company has a plan that is based on getting the most out of gasoline engines.

“For 2021, we are very confident we will meet the CAFE standards,” Moro said. “2025 is another story because the requirement level is very, very high.”

This year, Mazda became the first non-electric vehicle maker to hit 100 percent compliance with the 2016 CAFE standards, which called for a fleet average of 34.1 mpg. Before that, Tesla was the only automaker to meet the regulations, but its fleet is all-electric. Mazda’s entire lineup in the U.S. is powered by gasoline engines and includes no hybrids.

Mazda credits its Skyactiv system, a bundle of platform technologies and engineering tweaks, for propelling it to the front of the fuel-economy pack. Skyactiv-tuned engines squeeze greater efficiency out of the standard internal combustion engine.

Moro said the second generation of Skyactiv, which should be unveiled in 2017, will be the main driver toward meeting 2021 standards. Skyactiv 2 will use homogenous-charge compression ignition combustion engines, a technology that mimics the compression in diesel engines, which should further improve efficiency in gasoline engines.

But HCCI engines are a “very difficult and delicate technology,” Moro said, so Mazda is working to ensure the engines are durable.

As for offering a straight-up diesel engine in the U.S., Moro said, Mazda will make a decision shortly. In Japan, where diesels account for a small fraction of the overall market, 65 percent of Mazda’s sales are diesel.

Since it has had such success maximizing internal combustion engines, Mazda is under less pressure to pursue hybrids and electric cars, Moro said. The automaker has one hybrid, the Mazda3, for sale in Japan. That car uses Toyota hybrid technology, and Moro said Mazda has no plans to bring it to the U.S.

But he admitted Mazda will probably have to embrace some kind of electrification plan to reach the 2025 CAFE goal of 54.5 mpg. Those hybrid systems will likely be small, used primarily to enhance the efficiency of gasoline engines, he said.

“The new question mark is how many consumers will love buying this type of car,” he said. “We don’t know.”

The bigger looming issue is the zero-emission vehicles mandate that is baked into the 2025 regulations, Moro said. Nine states have adopted California’s mandate that 15 percent of new-vehicle sales be zero-emission vehicles.

“To me, the biggest regulatory headache right now is ZEV,” he said.

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