DETROIT – Mazda’s new Skyactiv powertrain technology hit the North America market only recently, but early indications suggest customers are eagerly embracing it.

Skyactiv “launched in limited form on the Mazda3 in October, and it’s paying off dramatically for us,” Jim O'Sullivan, president and CEO of Mazda North America Operations, tells WardsAuto at the North American International Auto Show here. “We’re seeing a substantial increase in our business and mix.”

The Mazda3 features a Skyactiv engine with a high 12.0:1 compression ratio designed to offer increased fuel economy without sacrificing performance, plus new automatic and manual transmissions.

The next new Mazda product, the CX-5 cross/utility vehicle, will feature a full range of Skyactiv technologies, including engine, transmissions, suspension, chassis and exhaust systems. The CX-5 is due in dealerships this quarter.

The CX-5 recently was rated at 35 mpg (6.7 L/100 km) on the highway, a number O’Sullivan says should draw significant interest in the CUV. (The) CX-5 has the best fuel economy of any CUV in America, including hybrids. We’re excited about CX-5 – 35 mpg is huge.”

Explaining Skyactiv, which Mazda says is more a philosophy than a name for new technology, has not been difficult, the executive says. Videos on the auto maker’s website outline the benefits. And consumers are attracted to the basic message Skyactiv is meant to convey: superior fuel economy and performance.

“As consumers research it a little further, they see it’s the real deal, not some fabricated marketing buzz,” O’Sullivan says. “It’s a whole new philosophy in engineering and how to bring cars to market.”

O’Sullivan is betting the Mazda3 and CX-5, expected to be the auto maker’s No.1 and No.2 top sellers, respectively, will help bolster sales in 2012.

Last year was “a decent year,” with Mazda’s U.S. business up 9% even with the supply-chain disruptions resulting from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, he says.

And O’Sullivan expects 2012 to be better, with Mazda keeping pace or surpassing the U.S. industry in total year-over-year percentage gains.

“It’s going to be a good fundamental year,” he says, estimating the U.S. seasonally adjusted annual rate to be about 13.5 million units.

“If the European debt crisis becomes Page-2 and -3 news instead of the front page, equity markets will respond accordingly and consumer confidence will improve. I think we’re in for a good 3- to 4-year run in this industry.”

bpope@wardsauto.com