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AUTO NEWS: Hybrid-less automakers fight back

TOKYO -- Major auto manufacturers whose product lineups do not include gasoline-electric hybrid cars have introduced models equipped with other types of fuel-saving technologies in the hope of competing with Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co....

TOKYO -- Major auto manufacturers whose product lineups do not include gasoline-electric hybrid cars have introduced models equipped with other types of fuel-saving technologies in the hope of competing with Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co., both of which have enjoyed skyrocketing sales of their hybrid models.

Mazda Motor Corp. released a new model of Axela, a midsize car featuring a newly developed idling stop system, on June 11. The company's previous system took about 0.7 seconds to restart the engine after idling, preventing a quick and easy restart, but Mazda developed technology that sets the pistons in the best positions for restarting.

The new system halves the restart time to 0.35 seconds.

Mazda's research shows that cars are stationary for about one-third of their urban driving time, so the new system can improve fuel consumption by 15 percent.

German auto giant Daimler AG released a new compact model of its Smart brand late last year featuring an idling stop system and Volkswagen AG also plans to introduce a model with such a system.

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Automakers also have introduced models with continuously variable transmission (CVT). CVT consists of a new pulley system that uses a belt-drive system that helps maintain the most fuel-efficient engine speed.

Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. introduced a new Legacy model as its first CVT-equipped midsize car May 20.

Few sports models contain CVT, because a quick acceleration when used with CVT has tended to cause V-belts to slip. However, Fuji Heavy Industries developed a system to carefully control hydraulic actuators for CVT pulleys and prevent slippage of its belt drive.

The automaker increased the capacity of the new Legacy's engine by 0.5 liters, but thanks to CVT and the control system, the model's fuel consumption remains at about 14 kilometers per liter, the same as the previous Legacy model.

Nissan Motor Co. also has improved the fuel efficiency of seven of its 14 CVT-equipped models through improved hydraulic controls related to engine speed.

The automaker said it plans to emphasize the energy efficiency of these models in future sales campaigns.

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