Mazda could have the tech to save the internal combustion engine

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Mazda is using diesel engine technology to save the gasoline engine, just as everyone else is trying to find the alternative fuel that will beat more stringent emissions standards around the world.

While it might sound like the Japanese company is making a backward move in an increasingly electrified automotive landscape, Mazda may have cracked what numerous automakers have spent years trying to figure out: allowing the use of the technology that has made diesel engines fuel efficient, without all of the dirty emissions that have given diesels a bad name as of late.

Mazda announced on Tuesday that it would introduce a gasoline engine that doesn’t always need spark plugs to ignite the fuel and air mixture and promises greater efficiency along the lines of a diesel engine. Instead, it finds the most efficient way to operate depending on driver demands, various settings in the car, and external conditions. Spark Controlled Compression Ignition, as Mazda calls its proprietary system, works because it behaves more like a traditional gasoline engine despite the diesel-like technology and having a supercharger to boost power, the company said.

The engine, dubbed SkyActiv-X by Mazda, is all about efficiency. The company says it will get between 20–30 percent greater fuel efficiency than the comparable SkyActiv-G engines that are in Mazda cars and SUVs on sale today, and it’s as much as 45 percent more efficient than the engines the company was putting in its vehicles a decade ago.

The setup is basically what’s known as homogenous charge compression ignition, and it’s based off of lots of existing technology that other companies have long looked into. Ford and General Motors are just two companies that have been experimenting with it in the last decade or so, but haven’t been able to put it into production yet.

Mazda released few other details about the engine other than it would be released in 2019, likely in the new Mazda 3. It’s expected the compression ignition engines will replace most, if not all, of the company’s internal combustion engines around the start of the next decade. Around that time, Mazda said it would start testing autonomous driving technologies in order to make them standard on all of its vehicles by 2025.

And it’s not as though Mazda is avoiding electrification altogether. The company said on Tuesday that it would start introducing cars with electric drive, “in regions that use a high ratio of clean energy for power generation or restrict certain vehicles to reduce air pollution.” In short, expect Mazda’s EV to only be available in places where they absolutely have to sell it, like California.

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With Britain and France planning to ban the sale of new internal combustion cars as soon as 2040, and other automakers pushing electrification further to meet more stringent fuel economy and emissions standards, the odds aren’t great for the gasoline engine — but Mazda may prove it’s too early to abandon the technology completely.

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