Friday, 20 April 2012

The future of the internal combustion engine

As car companies embark on wildly contrasting electric and hybrid vehicle strategies, could some of the most revolutionary advances come from the trusty combustion engine? Mazda say the future is still in fossil fuels

The Takeri concept looking towards production cars. According to Mazda Europe’s design chief, Peter Birtwhistle, “about 80 per cent” of the Takeri will be carried over onto the next 6 saloon, due next year.
The Takeri, however, is more than just a striking saloon concept. Beneath its skin, it highlights technology Mazda has developed under the SkyActiv umbrella in its quest to improve the fuel economy of its entire range by 30 per cent by 2015. That promise was made in 2007 as part of Mazda bosses’ aim of offering hybrid-like efficiency from internal combustion engines.

Why, though, persevere with petrol and diesel when other manufacturers are moving towards electrification?

“There are two main reasons,” explains Uwe Kracht, vehicle team manager at Mazda Motor Europe. “Firstly, we still believe combustion engines offer great potential. For example, up to 30 per cent of the energy from these engines is still getting lost. The second reason is that we are convinced that in 2020 more than 80 per cent of cars will still use combustion engines.”

Mazda calculates that its goals for improving fuel economy and CO2 emissions by 2015 would only otherwise be possible if either half of its new passenger cars were hybrids or almost a quarter of them were full electric vehicles. Given the current take-up of such vehicles, it’s an unlikely situation.

Mazda isn’t ruling out a fully electric car for the future, and it has already forged a licensing deal with Toyota to develop a hybrid that is expected next year. Kracht says: “For further development, we are following a ‘building block’ strategy, with SkyActiv at its base. We will develop the electrical applications in steps until perhaps some time in the future we will finally end up with an electric car.”

The first building block in the foundations of SkyActiv was Mazda’s stop-start system. Called i-Stop, it will be fitted to all future SkyActiv petrol and diesel engines, and already appears on some models, including the 3 and 5. The system can restart the engine in a single compression stroke, something that Mazda claims is an industry first.

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