Mazda says the twice-delayed launch of its much-anticipated diesel engine is related to performance — not emissions — and updated plans could be revealed at the New York International Auto Show in April.
“We didn’t think the powertrain was ‘zoom-zoom’ enough,” Mazda North America CEO Jim O’Sullivan told Automobile Magazine.
The diesel engine was originally scheduled to arrive late in 2013 in the Mazda 6 mid-size sedan, but in September, Mazda decided to delay the diesel variant until spring 2014. Then, in January, the company announced another delay; no timeline for the launch was given. A spokesman said this week there is no update on the arrival time.
The 2.2-liter four-cylinder turbocharged diesel powerplant is the second phase of Mazda’s Skyactiv engine strategy, following the 2.5-liter gasoline unit that is widely used across the company’s lineup. The diesel, called Skyactiv-D, makes about 148 hp and 280 lb-ft in the European-spec Mazda 6, and a Sport variant is tuned to make 173 hp and 310 lb-ft. The CX-5 crossover also uses the Skyactiv-D engine in European markets, but Mazda has not announced plans to offer a diesel for the CX-5 in the United States.
“We still think it’s [diesel] a significant part of our plan,” O’Sullivan said. “This is not just another engine.”
If plans for an update at the New York show stick, Mazda will become the first Asian automaker to offer a diesel engine option in a modern passenger car for sale in the United States. Nissan has announced a Cummins 5.0-liter V-8 diesel option for its next-generation Titan half-ton pickup truck, expected by calendar year 2015. At the Chicago Auto Show, Nissan displayed a Frontier pickup concept with a 2.8-liter four-cylinder Cummins diesel.
O’Sullivan says Mazda’s delay is worth it because a poor-performing diesel would tarnish the brand. It would also put another dent in the image of diesel engines in the U.S. market, where many consumers still stereotype them as smelly, dirty, and only acceptable for semi-trailer trucks.
“This engine is going to get much more attention,” he said. “If it doesn’t go well, I don’t want to add to the reputation.”
For Mazda, which has a strong standing among enthusiasts for its motorsports pedigree, a diesel with a sluggish driving character would be particularly damning. The company has had some success with the Skyactiv diesel competing in the International Motorsports Association’s Grand-Am series, and currently campaigns Skyactiv diesel racing cars in the Grand-Am successor, Tudor United Sports Car Championship.
Diesel engines are part of Mazda’s plans to lure new buyers from other brands in a bid to raise its visibility in North America, where it maintains a loyal following but a small market share. Mazda sales dipped nearly 12 percent, to 18,813 vehicles in January 2014, although calendar year 2013 sales were up 2.5 percent over 2012, to 283,947 cars and trucks.