New Mazda combustion engine could fill the gap before electric vehicle ubiquity

Mazda claims its new petrol engine is up to 30 per cent more efficient than others after it became the world’s first automaker to commercialise technology that rivals have been trying to engineer for decades.

The compression ignition engine is 20 to 30 per cent more fuel efficient than the Japanese automaker’s current engines and uses a technology that has eluded the likes of Daimler and General Motors.

Mazda, with a research and development (R&D) budget a fraction of those of major peers, said it plans to sell cars with the new engine from 2019.

“It’s a major breakthrough,” said Ryoji Miyashita, chairman of automotive engineering company AEMSS Inc.

The announcement places traditional engines at the centre of Mazda’s strategy and comes just days after Mazda said it will work with Toyota to develop electric vehicles and build a $1.6bn US assembly plant. 

“We think it is an imperative and fundamental job for us to pursue the ideal internal combustion engine,” Mazda R&D head Kiyoshi Fujiwara told reporters. “Electrification is necessary but... the internal combustion engine should come first.”

A homogeneous charge compression ignition (HCCI) engine ignites petrol through compression, eliminating spark plugs. Its fuel economy potentially matches that of a diesel engine without high emissions of nitrogen oxides or sooty particulates.

Mazda’s engine employs spark plugs under certain conditions, such as at low temperatures, to overcome technical hurdles that have hampered commercialisation of the technology.

Executive vice president Akira Marumoto called Mazda’s engine technology the automaker’s “heart”.

The engine is called SKYACTIV-X and Mazda had no plans to supply the engine to other carmakers, Marumoto said.

AEMSS’s Miyashita said a key issue would be how smooth and responsive the engine is.

“Is it jerky? If so, that would pose a big question when it comes to commercialising this technology,” he said. “Hopefully Mazda has an answer to that question.”

Mazda also said it would introduce electric vehicles and electric technology in its cars from 2019, focusing on markets that restrict the sale of certain vehicles to limit air pollution or that provide clean sources of electricity.

In addition, it said it aimed to make autonomous-driving technology standard in all of its models by 2025.

Mazda announced its petrol-engine technology breakthrough on the same day that shares in Japan’s GS Yuasa Corp surged after a newspaper reported that it would start producing a lithium battery that would double the range of electric cars as early as 2020.

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