CHICAGO – Mazda delayed the U.S. introduction of its Mazda6 diesel because it believed the engine wasn’t ready for this market and it didn’t want to turn off buyers to diesels industry-wide, the automaker’s top U.S. executive says.

“I didn’t want to damage the clean-diesel reputation for the North American market,” Jim O’Sullivan, CEO and president-Mazda North American Operations, tells WardsAuto in an interview here at the 2014 Chicago Auto Show.

While O’Sullivan says Mazda has solved the emissions puzzle for the mill, a 2.2L turbodiesel set for its midsize sedan, performance goals have been tougher to meet.

The Mazda6 diesel was to bow last fall, which would have made it the only diesel-powered car from an Asian manufacturer in the U.S., but it pushed the intro back until spring 2014 due to problems meeting emissions targets. Now, timing for the launch is unspecified.

“I remember I was on the phone (on) Christmas Eve, with Japan, making the decision that the best thing the company can do is spend the time to get it right,” O’Sullivan says. “When we enter the market, we’re going to have the performance aspects we want for this car vs. just meeting a mandated requirement and putting something out there.

“I don’t want to have (buyers) come back to me and say, ‘I bought one of these things, but it’s not the Mazda zoom-zoom (character) – it doesn’t have the performance aspect that I really want,’” he says.

Few technical specifications are known about the 2.2L diesel for U.S. application. It has been said to make 173 hp and 310 lb.-ft. (420 Nm) of torque.

Mazda at first stated it was not using a urea exhaust after-treatment system, but reports have indicated it may change tactics, possibly using both a diesel particulate filter and urea injection, following the path of the Chevrolet Cruze Diesel sold in the U.S.

O’Sullivan says Mazda currently can meet EPA and California requirements without after-treatment on the 2.2L diesel.

O’Sullivan doesn’t believe Mazda dealers have taken deposits yet on the Mazda6 diesel, and the automaker did not have a website set up to solicit interested parties in the U.S.

He remains keen to get the engine in market, believing the lock Volkswagen has on the segment in the U.S. isn’t unbreakable.

“I think it’s a good opportunity for us, because not only are we the only Asian brand bringing clean diesel in but there’s a lot of people that look at TDI (turbodiesel injection) more than they look at the Volkswagen brand,” he says.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com