VW emission scandal might affect Mazda’s diesel plans for the United States

Article by Christian Andrei, on October 16, 2015

Plans by Mazda Motor Corp. to launch a diesel car in the United States have been facing delays, and the Japanese may have to put off the launch even further following Volkswagen’s emissions scandal in the country that triggered global regulatory scrutiny on diesel technology.

According to Mazda spokeswoman Michiko Terashima, the carmaker’s engineers are trying to develop the Skyactiv-D engine to comply with US emissions standards sans any compromise in performance.

She added that Mazda has no specific time frame for introducing a diesel engine in the US but noted that VW’s scandal would not make the Japanese carmaker revise its plans. Many are seeing Mazda’s seemingly unclear launch plans for introducing diesel cars in the US as an example of collateral damage emanating from VW’s underhanded actions over US emissions tests.

The German carmaker had been able to fulfill its promise of clean diesel with its advanced technologies, only to be scandalized by revelations that it was cheating its way to healthy mpg numbers in laboratory tests by using software. Volkswagen divulged last month that it sold up to 11 million vehicles globally.

These vehicles featured diesel engines with software that only enables full pollution controls when it detects that a car’s emissions are being tested. These diesel vehicles, however, emit pollutants between 10 times and 40 times more than the legal limits permitted during normal driving, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

While the scandal has made consumers more doubtful on diesel vehicles, it also raised some misgivings over Mazda’s ability to create a fuel efficient and clean diesel. Dave Sullivan, an analyst for industry researcher AutoPacific Inc., told Bloomberg in a phone interview that while Mazda has been saying that the diesel engine is coming to the US, it has been delayed many times.

He noted that at this point, he does not understand why Mazda would still launch a diesel car in the US. Sullivan said that VW’s deception would make things harder for Mazda as the US government was already holding back its support for diesel engines.

He added that things might just get worse. Interestingly, Mazda is the most diesel-reliant Japanese carmaker, with diesel models accounting for around 45 percent of its domestic sales in the April-June quarter.

Other Japanese carmakers, meanwhile, have set their eyes on other technologies with Toyota Motor Corp. leaning on hybrids and Nissan Motor Co. focusing on electric vehicles. Mazda had planned to introduce a diesel-powered Mazda6 to the US in 2013.

Interestingly, Mazda is still promoting the Skyactiv-D engine with a video on its US Web site, although the powerplant is not available for sale in the country. Satoru Takada, an analyst at TIW Inc. in Tokyo, told Bloomberg by phone that while Mazda is aiming to bring diesel vehicles in North America, the Volkswagen scandal has clouded this plan.

Takada remarked that US authorities might raise the bar of emissions testing, which could burden Mazda’s diesel strategy. On its promotional video, Mazda said that its diesel engines are “quiet, durable and cleaner than ever.”

The Japanese carmaker noted that diesel engines require heavy, industrial-strength parts that typically compromises driving performance since these powerplants typically run with higher combustion pressures.

Mazda also noted that cleaning up nitrogen oxide emissions of diesel engine usually requires costly after-treatment systems. In its video, Mazda said that the Skyactiv-D was able to overcome these issues by lowering compression ratios, delaying combustion and giving fuel and air a millisecond more time to mix.

Mazda further described the Skyactiv-D as a beast, adding that this powerplant promises the driving performance of larger gasoline engines and the fuel economy of a hybrid. On the other hand, Volkswagen was able to conquer these issues through a “defeat device,” according to the EPA.

Mazda said in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg that it never uses “defeat devices” just to comply with emissions regulations, adding that it supports countries investigating new testing methods derived from real-world driving conditions.

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