How Mazda is hiking up fuel economy on a modest budget

Automotive News reports on Mazda's efforts to raise fuel economy.

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TOKYO--Mazda says technologies arriving next year will deliver hybridlike fuel efficiency from gasoline and diesel engines, helping meet tighter emissions standards and keep pace with rivals that have bigger R&D budgets.

The technologies--which include new direct-injection gasoline and diesel engines, transmissions, vehicle bodies, and chassis systems--will be branded the SkyActiv line, Mazda Motor Corp. CEO Takashi Yamanouchi said last week. The term is derived from the Sky-G gasoline and Sky-D diesel engine family unveiled last year.

The rechristened SkyActiv-G gasoline engine will appear in the United States and Japan next year. It was unclear what U.S. model will get the engine first, but spokesman Jeremy Barnes said it won't be the Mazda2.

Mazda said the direct-injection SkyActiv engine will help the Mazda2 achieve 70 mpg, based on Japanese testing, putting it on a par with gasoline-electric hybrids. The hybrid version of the Honda Fit small car, now on sale in Japan, also gets 70 mph.

Direct injection puts fuel directly into the combustion chamber rather than upstream in the intake port, resulting in improved fuel economy and performance.

More fuel economy gains will come from new SkyActiv transmissions, body structures and chassis, Mazda said. The transmissions boost fuel economy up to 7 percent, and engineers slashed weight from the body and chassis for further improvements.

Rivals such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. have invested billions in hybrid or electric vehicles. But Mazda, which has a more modest R&D budget in keeping with its much smaller sales, focuses on honing tried-and-true technology.

It also highlights Mazda's push to develop its own technology, as longtime partner Ford Motor Co. considers further reducing its stake in Mazda to as low as 3 percent. Mazda has been working on the SkyActiv technology for seven years and has no plans to share it with Ford.

Mazda pledged that the upcoming Demio/Mazda2 will cost less than hybrids in the same segment.

"It doesn't require a new infrastructure of expensive devices; it simply reduces carbon emissions through the improvement of base technologies," randd chief Seita Kanai said.

During next year's minor model change of the Demio/Mazda2, the Japanese version will get the SkyActiv-G engine. The new transmissions, body and chassis will be introduced during full model changes, said Akira Iwamoto, staff manager for powertrain development. The SkyActiv-D diesel debuts in the United States, Japan and Europe in 2012.

Mazda says the engines consume less fuel and deliver higher torque as a result of re-engineering such things as compression ratios, combustion duration and intake volume.

The SkyActiv-Body is 8 percent lighter and 30 percent more rigid than Mazda's current frames, thanks to better bonding methods and more high-tensile steel, the company said. Meanwhile the SkyActiv-Chassis will be 14 percent lighter than its predecessor.

Yamanouchi said nearly all models have the SkyActiv technologies by 2015.

(Source: Automotive News)

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