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The most fuel-efficient automaker in the US sells no hybrids or plugins

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Jason Lee/Reuters/File

(Read caption) A customer looks at a Mazda 5 mini van at a showroom in Beijing. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has named Mazda its top carmaker for fuel efficiency for the third consecutive year.

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The most fuel-efficient automaker in the U.S. doesn't sell a single hybrid car, let alone battery-electric cars or plug-in hybrids.

In fact, it currently doesn't have any vehicles with electrified powertrains in its whole U.S. lineup.

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That's because the company in question is Mazda, which is notably improving efficiency across its lineup through refinements to internal-combustion engines alone.

And that strategy is apparently enough: In its most recent Light Duty Fuel Economy Trends report, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) named Mazda as its top carmaker for fuel efficiency for the third consecutive year.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: The EPA report can be found here.]

[EDITOR'S NOTE: A number of readers have commented that Tesla Motors, which makes only electric cars, makes the most energy-efficient vehicles in the world. That is true, but this article is about fuel efficiency, not energy efficiency. Electricity is not a fuel.]

For the 2014 model year--the most recent year with available data--Mazda achieved a fleet average of 29.4 mpg.

It also averaged carbon-dioxide emissions of 328 grams per mile across its fleet.

Mazda works toward fuel-economy gains through its SkyActiv powertrains, which rely solely on tuning and some technical tricks to boost efficiency.

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Mostly naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engines, they've also allowed Mazda to largely phase out larger engines.

Even the upcoming 2016 CX-9 three-row crossover will be offered only with a four-cylinder engine--a new 2.5-liter turbocharged unit.

ALSO SEE: 2016 Mazda CX-3: First Drive Of 31-MPG Small Sporty Crossover

The fact that Mazda's lineup doesn't include any large trucks or high-performancecars to drag down its average helps as well.

Avoiding more complex electrified powertrains has allow engineers to realize efficiency gains without stretching the resources of what is still a fairly small car company.

But Mazda may eventually have to add a plug-in hybrid or battery-electric model to its lineup to meet stricter emissions standards.

The carmaker is part of a second tier of manufacturers that will be required to comply with California's zero-emission vehicle mandate, beginning in 2018.

That means Mazda will have to sell a certain number of cars defined as "zero emission" in California to maintain compliance.

The Japanese firm and several other carmakers successfully lobbied to change the rules so that plug-in hybrids--in addition to battery-electric and hydrogen fuel-cell cars--can be counted toward the sales goal.

Mazda recently signed a technical agreement with Toyota, which will likely supply powertrain components for future hybrids and plug-in hybrids.

It briefly sold small numbers of Tribute Hybrid SUVs (rebadged hybrid Escapes) when it was part of Ford. And it now sells a Mazda 3 hybrid only in Japan, whose domestic tax policies heavily skew its car market toward hybrids.

At the same time, Mazda president Masamichi Kogai has said the carmaker is aiming for a 30-percent efficiency improvement for its next-generation SkyActiv engines, which should appear around 2018.


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