Mazda's diesel gambit pays in Japan. But in the U.S.?

TOKYO -- Here's a good omen for Mazda Motor Corp.'s gamble on delving into diesels in the United States later this year.

In Japan, a country where diesels are all but non-existent, the diesel version of Mazda's CX-5 sold like crazy in 2012. The CX-5 small crossover went on sale here last February and sold 35,434 units by the end of the year.

Not huge numbers. Mazda sold 43,319 CX-5s in the United States.

But the eye-popper is that 26,835 units, or 80 percent, of the CX-5s sold in Japan were equipped with the diesel engine.

That tally is nearly three times the number of diesel passenger vehicles sold in all of Japan during 2011, Mazda says.

Mazda has essentially created a whole new niche in Japan.

And it no doubt hopes to repeat the feat in the United States.

Mazda doesn't sell the CX-5 diesel or any other diesel there yet. But in the second half of 2013, it will become the only Asian automaker selling a diesel engine there when it adds a 2.2-liter turbocharged diesel to the 2014 Mazda6 lineup.

Mazda says Japanese drivers switched to diesel after being won over by its excellent fuel efficiency and exhilarating pick up.

It also helps that diesel fuel is cheaper than gasoline here.

In the United States, where the price differential is reversed, the diesel Mazda6 won't have that pump-savings tailwind.

So will those diesel driving dynamics still catch on?

The so-called Skyactiv-D diesel power plant is a new engine that debuted in the CX-5. Mazda positions it as a key offering in its lineup of Skyactiv technologies, which also include new chassis, frames, transmissions and gasoline engines.

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