- Mazda has developed a new gas engine that’s far more efficient than existing motors. The Skyactiv-X engine uses compression rather than spark to ignite the fuel-air mixture. It can be used quickly and easily in existing Mazda vehicle designs without adding costs.
There’s a widespread assumption that all-electric vehicles are over the next two decades going to displace gas-powered cars in the marketplace, at least in the developed world.
Maybe, maybe not. We’re definitely witnessing a lot of new EV concepts, and some carmakers are even rolling out all-new, long-range electric cars, such as Nissan’s revamped Leaf and the Chevy Bolt, which arrived last year. And who can ignore Tesla’s Model 3 and its 500,000 pre-orders?
But EV market penetration is far behind where many industry experts thought it would be when this latest wave of electrified products started to hit, back in 2010.
Pundits were calling for 10%-20% of the market going electric by now. Instead, it’s only about 1%.
EVs have a pair of major challenges still to overcome: cost and charging times (the range issue has been successfully addressed, but even long-range EVs such as Tesla’s Model S can cover far less ground than comparable gas-engined vehicles). Lithium-ion batteries are expensive, and even the fastest fast charging still takes an hour or more to rejuice a depleted EV.
Meanwhile, innovation for traditional drivetrain technologies hasn’t stopped, as Mazda recently demonstrated.
Look Ma, no spark!
By 2019, the carmaker will introduce its new Skyactiv-X engine, which Mazda says will be the “world’s first commercial gasoline engine to use compression ignition, in which the fuel-air mixture ignites spontaneously when compressed by the piston.”
Translation: the engine operates like a diesel that runs on regular gas – no spark plug required, and both torque and fuel-economy are increased. (But the engine can fall back on spark if it needs to.)
The engine also requires less fuel in the fuel-air mixture, enabling it to run “lean.”
“Compression ignition makes possible a super lean burn that improves engine efficiency … from 35-45 percent over Mazda’s 2008 gasoline engine of the same displacement,” Mazda said in a statement. “Skyactiv-X even equals or exceeds the latestSkyactiv-D diesel engine in fuel efficiency.”
Mazda needs tech such as this to meet increasing fuel-economy and emissions standards worldwide, but it also helps the company to provide high-MPG vehicles to customers without having to develop a lot of hybrids and EVs. The new engine probably won’t cost much more than the carmaker’s existing motors – if it costs more at all – and can be dropped into production seamlessly.
More importantly, while many EV concepts might never make it to market, Mazda will be selling its breakthrough in two years. And this doesn’t prevent the company from enacting its own self-driving program, because self-driving cars don’t care if they run on gas or electricity.