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Mazda Sticks with Internal Combustion

MONTEREY, Calif. -- Using achievable improvements to existing technology, tomorrow's gasoline engines will get gas mileage like today's diesels, and next-generation diesels will get mileage like today's gasoline-electric hybrids.

That's according to Seita Kanai, director and senior managing executive officer, research and development for Mazda Motor Corp. in Japan.

He said in a presentation here on Aug. 19 that to achieve higher average fuel efficiency, Mazda is pushing gas-saving technologies into cars with standard, internal-combustion engines, rather than relying heavily on hybrids or electric vehicles.

In part Mazda, which is newly independent of Ford, is making a virtue out of necessity. Bigger, richer rivals like Honda, Nissan and Toyota can afford to branch out more into hybrids and EVs.

But Kanai also pointed out that market share for hybrids and EVs is likely to grow slowly, due to high costs and customer resistance. There are bigger, more immediate fuel savings to be had by improving existing technologies, he said.

"We want to offer these benefits to all owners, rather than limiting the focus to just a few ecologically minded customers," Kanai said. For use further in the future, Mazda is also experimenting with hybrid cars that can burn either hydrogen or gasoline in an internal combustion engine.

Mazda offers clean-burning diesel engines in Europe, where diesels are much more popular than in the United States or Japan. However, Mazda North American Operations does not offer any diesels in the United States, and probably won't, until a new generation of diesels arrives in the next few years.

Kanai said Mazda is working on a "breakthrough" engine technology that will allow the company to offer future diesels that are even more fuel-efficient, at a lower cost than current diesels.

Today's diesels, including the diesels Mazda offers now in Europe, use an expensive urea treatment system to reduce diesel emissions. Mazda spokesman Jeremy Barnes confirmed that Mazda's next-generation diesels will be able to skip the urea treatment system, which will reduce costs.

"It is generally believed diesel will become more expensive because of environmental regulations. We are developing breakthrough technology (to get) around that," Kanai said.

Meanwhile, Mazda announced earlier this month it will display a diesel-powered CX-7 crossover SUV, which uses an improved urea treatment system, at next month's Frankfurt auto show. The new model will go on sale in Europe in October 2009.