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SKYACTIV-Delay: Mazda can meet EPA demands, not its own, with diesel

Sections: Fuel Economy, Powertrain

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SKYACTIV-D Diesel Engine Press Photo

You’ll have to wait a little longer to see one of these SKYACTIV-D diesel engines under the hood of a Mazda in America, as the automaker says it’s still working out the right combination of performance, efficiency, and environmental friendliness for the U.S. market. (Photo courtesy Mazda)

So we heard the news like most of you: Mazda decided to delay selling its much-ballyhooed SKYACTIV-D diesel engines in America. A Mazda spokesperson tells us that’s not because it’s difficult to build an EPA- and CARB-compliant diesel engine, but because Mazda is not yet satisfied with the balance of economy and performance from would-be U.S.-spec SKYACTIV-D engines.

The Mazda press release from Thursday, Jan. 9 put it like this:

Mazda North American Operations today announced that the launch of its SKYACTIV-D clean diesel engine in North America is being further delayed from its Spring 2014 announced debut timing.

While Mazda understands its SKYACTIV-D can meet emission regulation requirements without the use of a NOx after-treatment system, it was decided that further development is required to deliver the right balance between fuel economy and Mazda-appropriate driving performance.

Further information on the program, including a timeline of launch for North America, technical specifications and fuel economy will be available at a later date, closer to launch.

We reached out to Mazda North American Operations Senior Public Relations Manager Eric Booth to get more detail. Based on the wording of the press release, I thought it sounded like the SKYACTIV-D diesel engines might be underperforming in either driving dynamics or economy, but probably not both. Or perhaps it was difficult to get the SKYACTIV-D engines to burn clean enough to satisfy the EPA, since Mazda planned to avoid using urea-based exhaust aftertreatment to scrub the exhaust of nitrogen oxides. Booth indicated I might be onto something with regard to the first point, but definitely not the second:

“It is fully possible to deliver a SKYACTIV-D clean diesel engine that exceeds all North American specifications, but we are unable to tune the engine to deliver the sort of driving performance that we, and most importantly, our customers, expect from a Mazda,” Booth said. “We will continue to develop the system to where we feel it is an acceptable balance of emissions and performance.”

So would going with an AdBlue-like urea exhaust aftertreatment help Mazda find the right balance between fuel economy, performance, and exhaust cleanliness? I asked Booth directly about Mazda’s insistence on staying away from urea when many passenger automobiles with diesel engines — among them the Mercedes-Benz BlueTEC models and the new-for-2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel — use it.

“We are looking at a number of technologies in order to balance performance and emissions and will have more to say about this when we get closer to launching the SKYACTIV-D engine in North America,” he said.

That launch date, as the press release indicated, remains to be determined.

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