Mazda to battle hybrids with engine improvements

TOKYO (Reuters) - Mazda Motor Corp said on Thursday it expected to develop a diesel engine that was cheaper and about as fuel-efficient as some hybrid cars by 2011 as part of its efforts to improve mileage without the aid of costly electric systems.

The Hiroshima-based automaker has set a target of raising its global car fleet’s fuel economy by 30 percent by 2015, and plans to rely on advances in internal combustion engines, automatic transmissions and vehicle weight reduction to reach that goal.

As one pillar of that plan, Mazda is working on a clean diesel engine with a displacement of about 2.0 liters that would be as fuel-efficient as a 660cc gasoline microcar and a “mild” hybrid car, Mazda’s head of research and development said.

“We believe that improving today’s conventional engines at a low cost is the most effective way to get fuel-efficient cars to proliferate,” R&D Chief Seita Kanai told reporters in Tokyo.

Gasoline-electric hybrid cars are gaining popularity but still carry a premium over conventional gasoline and diesel cars.

Hybrid proponents such as Toyota Motor Corp have argued that tighter emissions regulations in future would mean that cleaning the exhaust from diesel engines could cost as much as or more than gasoline-electric hybrid technology.

But Kanai said Mazda’s new diesel engine would cost less, not more, partly due to its proprietary single-nanotechnology, which reduces the use of precious metals in emission-cleaning catalysts, and a new diesel particulate filter that negates the need for expensive after-treatment parts.

Mazda also plans to reduce the weight of new models in and after 2011 by more than 100 kg (220 lb), or about a tenth of an average car, and by another 10 percent or more after 2016. This would also be achieved at lower cost, Kanai said.

“The norm in the industry is to ‘buy’ weight reduction at a cost, but we won’t do that,” he said.

Kanai said Mazda would begin mounting electric devices such as an electric motor in a hybrid car during the second stage of mileage improvements between 2015 to 2020, when global emissions and mileage standards would likely require their use.

He declined to say whether Mazda would share its advanced that the partners would continue to work together on any project that reaped benefits on both sides.

Editing by Chris Gallagher