NEW YORK—Mazda Motor Corp. is betting its long-anticipated diesel engine will help burnish its premium image in the U.S. But the first diesel model to arrive here, the CX-5 crossover, might be a tough sell.
The Japanese auto maker said at the New York auto show last week that the Skyactiv-D 2.2-liter motor "addresses the strong demand for a diesel engine in the U.S. that offers a premium driving experience."
With a suggested retail price of $42,045, including shipping, and an estimated 28 mpg combined in city and highway, the CX-5 Signature all-wheel-drive diesel is more expensive, less powerful and only moderately more fuel efficient (15 percent) than the new turbocharged gasoline version wearing the same trim.
Jeffrey Guyton, the newly named president of Mazda North American Operations, said in a news release that "as Mazda continues our climb toward premium, we will offer more powertrain choices that premium customers expect." The turbocharged four-cylinder diesel is part of that effort.
At his New York presentation, Guyton also said the brand was working on a diesel option for the Mazda6 sedan, noting that it has successfully sold advanced diesel engines in markets around the world, including Japan and Europe. Guyton sold the motor as a differentiator for Mazda.
"We do things differently in order to try and do them better," he said during the presentation. "Now, Mazda's unique diesel engine is a great example of this. And what makes Mazda's diesel technology so remarkable is we designed the combustion process itself to produce very few harmful emissions in the first place."
Mazda said it worked with federal and state agencies to ensure that the diesel motor meets all the required emissions standards, but diesel vehicles (with the exception of work trucks) were not popular in the U.S. even before Volkswagen's diesel emissions scandal erupted in 2015.
Masahiro Moro, CEO of Mazda North America Operations, said in an interview that the company isn't necessarily going after frustrated former VW customers, "but there are diesel fans. … (and) they didn't have a product in a crossover in the range of a price they could afford."
Last year, sales of the CX-5 rose 18 percent in the competitive U.S. compact crossover segment, which saw an overall increase of 8.6 percent. With 150,622 deliveries, it ranked No. 8.
While other auto makers pursue electric vehicles to meet regulatory goals, consumers aren't big fans yet, Moro said, so why not at least offer diesel technology, which is capable and a good fit for U.S. consumers.
"I think everybody was zigging and we're zagging—so that is always Mazda," he said.