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Mazda boosts petrol engine efficiency in fresh blow to diesel

The Guardian logo The Guardian 08/08/2017 Samuel Gibbs
© Mazda; Newspress

One of the world’s largest automotive firms has hailed a technological breakthrough for the petrol engine, in an engineering twist for an industry racing to embrace the electric car.

Japanese car manufacturer Mazda claims to have designed a vehicle that will largely eliminate the need for spark plugs in petrol engines, increasing fuel efficiency by as much as 30%.

The development also increases the existential threat facing diesel engines because its fuel economy could match diesel’s performance without high emissions of nitrogen oxides or sooty particulates.

Mazda said it would sell cars from 2019 with a newly developed petrol compression ignition engine, a technology that automotive manufacturers, including deep-pocketed rivals such as Daimler AG and General Motors, have been chasing for decades.

The engine ignites petrol through compression, removing the need for spark plugs and increasing fuel efficiency.

The announcement places traditional engines at the centre of Mazda’s manufacturing strategy, days after the company – which sells 1.5m cars a year – said it will work with larger rival Toyota to develop electric vehicles.

Mazda Motor president Masamichi Kogai shows a slide about its new engine Skyactiv-X, in Tokyo, Japan. © Reuters Mazda Motor president Masamichi Kogai shows a slide about its new engine Skyactiv-X, in Tokyo, Japan. “We think it is an imperative and fundamental job for us to pursue the ideal internal combustion engine,” said Mazda’s head of research and development, Kiyoshi Fujiwara. “Electrification is necessary but... the internal combustion engine should come first.”

But Mazda said its Skyactiv-X engine would have spark plugs that would be used in certain situations such as at low temperatures.

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

Buthe questioned whether the engine would be smooth and responsive. “Is it jerky? If so, that would pose a big question when it comes to commercialising this technology. Hopefully Mazda has an answer to that question.”

Mazda previously said it would work with Toyota to develop electric vehicles and build a $1.6bn (£1.2bn) US assembly plant.

It added 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, Mazda said it aimed to make autonomous-driving technology standard in all of its models by 2025, a move that many in the industry see linked hand-in-hand with fully battery-powered electric cars.

The industry is still steering in the direction of electric vehicles.

In the UK, the government has announced it would ban the sales of new petrol and diesel cars from 2040 amid fears that rising levels of nitrogen oxide pose a major risk to public health, putting an end date on the life expectancy of traditional combustion-engine powered vehicles.

Volvo recently announced all its new cars would be built with electric or hybrid engines from 2019, while Silicon Valley-based electric car company Tesla recently started delivering its more mass-market aimed car, the $35,000 Model 3, which can travel up to 310 miles between charges with an extended range battery.

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