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Mazda, European Automakers Driving Japan's Diesel Car Market


TOKYO (Nikkei)--Long stuck in low gear, Japan's market for diesel passenger cars could rev up with the entry of new "clean diesel" models planned by Mazda Motor Corp. (7261) and Europe's leading manufacturers.

Mazda's plans include the introduction of a diesel engine for the fully remodeled 2014 version of its popular Demio, sold overseas as the Mazda2.

The deeply ingrained image of diesel engines as noisy polluters has stymied Japan's market for diesel passenger cars to date, even though the new generation of clean diesel cars belies that image and has already gained broad acceptance in Europe.

With various automakers planning to release at least five new models in Japan over the next two years, combined sales of diesel cars could grow to account for nearly 10% of all new-car sales.

By 2014 at least 10 different models of diesel cars will be available, or double the present number. Overall annual sales, stuck below 10,000 units in fiscal 2011, are predicted to balloon to 200,000 to 300,000 units.

Mazda is now offering diesel versions of its CX-5.

Mazda released diesel versions of the CX-5 sport utility vehicle and the Atenza, which is sold overseas as the Mazda6, in Japan last year. Their success encouraged Mazda to also equip its smaller cars with diesel engines. This year the company will add a diesel version of its fully remodeled Axela -- sold overseas as the Mazda3 -- and in 2014 will offer a diesel version of the fully remodeled Demio. The Axela will initially be equipped with a 2.2-liter diesel engine, but Mazda is developing a 1.5-liter engine that it plans to use for both the Axela and the Demio.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp. (7211), which already sells diesel cars in Europe, is planning to offer the vehicles in Japan. The Delica D:5 minivan, released in January, will get a diesel engine option, and sometime within the next two to three years the company will also introduce a diesel version of the Outlander crossover SUV sold in Europe.

European automakers are now also targeting Japan's market for a new generation of clean diesel cars. Sweden's' Volvo Car Corp. will release a diesel car this year, and Germany's Volkswagen AG plans to introduce a model in or after 2014. In addition, both Mercedes-Benz Japan Co. and BMW Japan Corp. plan to expand their existing lineups of diesel cars.