While many of its rivals have flocked to hybrid technology for fuel efficiency gains, Mazda is relatively unique in that it plans to further develop existing internal combustion technologies in order to maximize the fuel efficiency of its engines.

Mazda previewed its next-generation of powertrain technologies, which included two new engines and an advanced automatic transmission, last year. Grouped under the ‘Sky’ family of technologies, the powertrains relied on existing technologies such as direct injection, reduced friction and optimal air-fuel mixes for their fuel efficiency gains.

Mazda is so confident of its new technology that the automaker claims they will be able to match existing hybrid vehicles in fuel efficiency when they start to arrive in the U.S. next year.

Mazda SKY Drive transmission

Mazda SKY Drive transmission

Speaking with Automotive News, Mazda's head of product planning and powertrain development, Kiyoshi Fujiwara, revealed that the next-generation Mazda3 due around 2015 will feature a 2.0-liter SKY-G engine matched to a Sky-Drive six-speed automatic transmission and should return upwards of 40 mph on the highway. The current model gets about 33 mpg.

Fujiwara also revealed that the next-generation Mazda6 will get a 2.2-liter Sky-D turbodiesel engine good for 43 mpg on the highway, besting the current model, which only gets about 30 mpg from a gasoline engine.

Other technologies that will help Mazda boost the fuel efficiency of its cars include engine start-stop and regenerative braking, all of which are planned in the coming years. Further down the track, Mazda will even introduce hybrid and electric vehicles using technology licensed from Toyota.

For more information on the Sky family of powertrain technologies, check out our more detailed report over at Motor Authority.

[Automotive News, sub req’d]