TOKYO – The new Mazda6 has gotten off to a solid start since the model's late-November 2012 launch in Japan.

Sales of the car through January, including the U.S., U.K. and Australian markets, reached 6,030 units, the auto maker reports. In Japan, the Mazda6 sells as the upscale Atenza. Mazda eventually plans to market the midsize car in 120 countries and is projecting yearly deliveries of both sedan and wagon models at 240,000, up 24% from 2012.

Based on company forecasts, this would give Mazda a 5% share of global demand for C/D-segment cars. Management estimates the market at 5 million units including 2.5 million in the U.S., 800,000 in China, 500,000 in Europe and 160,000 in Canada.

The Mazda6/Atenza, based on the Takeri concept sedan that debuted at the 2011 Tokyo auto show, is the second Mazda model to incorporate the full range of the auto maker’s Skyactiv powertrain technology. This includes 4-cyl. gasoline and diesel engines; a pair of 6-speed transmissions, one an all-new manual; and stop/start.

The CX-5 cross/utility vehicle, which went on sale last February, was the first to receive the new technology.

Outside the U.S., where the Mazda6 has underperformed in recent years, the auto maker hopes to achieve a minimum 7% share of the midsize-sedan segment, with 10% in Australia and Japan.

The U.S. market will be an interesting test for the Mazda6. The previous model, built at the AutoAlliance Flat Rock, MI, joint-venture plant with Ford, was phased out of production last August. Over the prior five years, output averaged less than 50,000 units annually.

In light of the CX-5’s early success in the U.S., with sales through December totaling 159,647 units, Mazda President Takashi Yamanouchi believes the Mazda6 will be competitive.

More importantly, Yamanouchi reports the auto maker can export the Mazda6 profitably at ¥77:$1 and ¥100:€1. When the car debuted in May 2002, Mazda indicated the first generation of its “Zoom-Zoom” lineup would be profitable at ¥95:$1.

Even better news: The yen has weakened against both major currencies to ¥93:$1 and ¥126.5:€1. As a result, management has revised its fiscal-2012 operating earnings forecast upwards to ¥45 billion ($484 million) from ¥25 billion ($269 million).

Yamanouchi predicts Skyactiv models will account for more than 30% of Mazda’s global sales in the second half of the current fiscal year ending March 31, followed by 50% in fiscal 2014 and 80% in fiscal 2015.

Mazda plans to introduce six new Skyactiv models by spring 2016, raising the total to eight including the Mazda6/Atenza and CX-5. The auto maker is counting the next-generation Demio and Mazda3/Axela among the additions. Although powered by Skyactiv engines, neither currently employs the full array of Skyactiv technologies.

It’s still unclear whether a Skyactiv rotary-engine model will join the lineup, although the auto maker is working on one.

In fiscal 2015, when all eight models are road-ready, Mazda forecasts sales of 1.7 million units (including non-Skyactiv models), up from 1.2 million today, in a global market expected to grow to 100 million.

Last year, diesels accounted for a 78% share of CX-5 sales in Japan; 57% in Europe, excluding the Russian Federation; and 35% in Australia.

Of Mazda6 total sales through January, an estimated 60% were diesels including 72% in Japan, 50% in Europe and 33% in Australia. Mazda doesn't plan to launch the diesel in the U.S. until the year’s second half.

By market, the Japanese Atenza (sedan and wagon) is available in four grades: the XD, powered by a 2.2L Skyactiv-D diesel engine; XD L, powered by the same 2.2L diesel; 20S, fitted with the same 2.0L gasoline engine adopted by the CX-5; and 25S L, featuring an all-new 2.5L gasoline engine.

The 2.2L diesel version is available with an optional 6-speed manual transmission.

The Mazda 6/Atenza, CX-5 and Axela now are equipped with the auto maker’s Skyactiv-Drive 6-speed automatic transmission.

Both wagon and sedan versions of the Mazda6 went on sale in the U.K. and Australia last December. In the U.K., the car is equipped with 2.0L gasoline and 2.2L diesel engines and Mazda's 6-speed manual gearbox. Australia gets the 2.5L gasoline and 2.2L diesel engines and the auto maker's 6-speed automatic.

In the U.S., Mazda introduced the 2.5L version of the sedan in early January, with first-month deliveries of 666 units. Coinciding with the Mazda6 launch, the auto maker added a 2.5L version of the CX-5. The diesel will be offered in the U.S. Mazda6 this fall, likely mated to the automatic transmission.

All Mazda6/Atenza grades are equipped with the auto maker’s new brake energy- regeneration system called i-ELOOP that employs a capacitor to store regenerated electricity to power air conditioning and other electrical systems. All but the U.S. model are equipped with Mazda’s “i-stop” stop/start system.

Mazda’s i-stop also is available on the Axela, Biante, Demio, Premacy and CX-5 models in Japan and the Mazda3, Mazda5 and CX-5 overseas. Europe sees stop/start in the Mazda3 and Mazda5 only.

The auto maker estimates combined fuel savings from i-ELOOP and i-stop at 10%.

Mazda6 fuel economy is impressive, ranking slightly below the best hybrids on the market, while also delivering torque equivalent to a 4.0L V-8 car.

The XD diesel achieves 52.7 mpg (4.1 L/100 km) under Japan’s JC08 test mode, 30%-40% better than the previous model and only 2.4 mpg (1.0 km/L) lower than the larger Toyota Camry Hybrid and 8.9 mpg (26.4 L/100 km) lower than the slightly smaller Prius V.

The 2.5L 25S L package achieves 37 mpg (6.4 L/100 km).

In Japan, the Mazda6 is priced from ¥2.5 million ($26,880) for the 20S trim level to ¥3.4 million ($36,600) for the XD L. All models, because of their good fuel economy, are exempt from the country’s vehicle-acquisition tax, which averages about ¥128,500 ($1,375) per car.

The new Mazda6/Atenza is the third generation of the car. The initial model was the first Mazda vehicle to incorporate the auto maker’s “Zoom-Zoom” design philosophy. Its 2002 launch was delayed nearly a year “to get it just right,” former Mazda President Mark Fields said at the time.

Seita Kanai, program manager for the first-generation model and current Mazda executive vice president, says the auto maker brought together some 25 brand attributes ranging from steering and handling to braking and noise, vibration and harshness to create the auto maker’s “stylish, insightful and spirited” brand philosophy.

“Before developing our ‘Zoom-Zoom’ brand strategy, we lacked consistency,” Kanai said in an interview several years ago. “With every model since the Mazda6, we have applied these attributes which, taken as a whole, focus on vehicle dynamics.”

Since introducing the Mazda6, the auto maker has sold more than 2.4 million units worldwide.

Mazda began production of the car last autumn at its Hofu plant in Yamaguchi prefecture, Japan. The auto maker also plans to build the Mazda6 in China and Russia: FAW Car will produce the sedan in Changchun, while Mazda's joint-venture plant will manufacture it in Vladivostok. 

In a related development, Mazda and Ford last November separated their Chinese JV, called Changan Ford Mazda Automobile, into Changan Mazda Automobile and Changan Ford Automobile. Changan Mazda is scheduled to begin production of the CX-5 and Mazda6 by the end of this year.