Mazda may lose its leading spot in the fuel economy race, but plans to stay competitive with non-electric, second-generation “Skyactiv” engines.

Mazda followed Tesla Motors this year to become 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. Mazda’s entire lineup in the U.S. is powered by gasoline engines and includes no hybrid or battery electric vehicles.

In a roundtable interview 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. Moro said the company will get what it needs in regulatory targets through fuel-efficient 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.”

Moro said the second generation of Skyactiv, which should be unveiled in 2017, will be the main driver toward meeting 2021 standards. Skyactiv-tuned engines produce greater efficiency out of the standard internal combustion engine. The Japanese automaker credits its Skyactiv system for propelling it to the front of the fuel-economy pack.

Also not hurting things is a conspicuous absence of larger bodied trucks, such as other major automakers Toyota, Ford, GM, Ram now have pulling down their fleet averages. These pickups and SUVs are graded under a more lenient CAFE standard, but electrification is typically absent among these heavy haulers.

Coming back to Mazda, Skyactiv 2 will use homogenous-charge compression ignition combustion engines, a technology that mimics the compression in diesel engines, which the automaker expects will 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.

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Mazda will have a decision to make on diesel engines in the wake of the Volkswagen scandal. Moro said that Mazda will make a decision shortly about offering a straight-up diesel engine in the U.S. In Japan, where diesels account for a small fraction of the overall market, 65 percent of Mazda’s sales are diesel.

Doing well in selling efficient cars with internal combustion engines has taken some of the pressure off Mazda to roll out any hybrid and electric cars, Moro said. Mazda 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.

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But he admitted Mazda will probably have to embrace some kind of electrification plan to reach the 2025 CAFE goal of 54.5 mpg – realistically high 30s on the window sticker. Those hybrid systems will likely be small, used primarily to enhance the efficiency of gasoline engines, he said.

Automotive News