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Mazda’s ‘quest to make the best ICE’

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Mazda SkyActiv 1
Prototype of Mazda’s revolutionary gasoline engine and gearbox are now being tested on the current 3 sedan. -- ALL PHOTOS: BRIAN M. AFUANG

BESIDES presenting the prototype version of its SkyActiv-X gasoline engine (along with other systems being developed related to this) Mazda Motor Corp. on May 27, at its proving ground in Mine, Japan, also discussed launch schedules of what it said are its “next-generation technologies.”

And while the car maker stressed electrification is a part of its strategy in reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, it was also apparent Mazda is not giving up — just yet — on the internal combustion engine (ICE).

“[An] ICE can have lower well-to-wheel emissions depending on the energy source,” said Hidetoshi Kudo, Mazda Motor’s executive officer in charge of research and development, and product strategy.

Mr. Kudo was referring to the path fuel or electricity takes to get to a vehicle; the extracted oil from a well travels to either a refinery (to produce fuel) or a power plant (to produce electricity), then to dispensing outlets (service or charging stations), until both energy sources reach an ICE-propelled car or an EV.

Mazda said its development of technologies meant to reduce emissions consider every aspect along the path from well to wheel, and not just from tank to wheel, which refers only to CO2 emitted while driving. This method, the company noted, measures CO2 emissions more accurately over the life cycle of a vehicle. And, based on this, Mazda has “reconsidered the ecological merits of EV vehicles which consume power generated by using fossil fuels.”

“With two thirds of global electricity production currently relying on the use of fossil fuels, Mazda believes regulations placing the absolute emissions of an EV at zero to be disingenuous,” the car maker said in a statement.

It cited as an example a midsize EV that consumes around 20 kilowatt-hours of electricity per 100 kilometers. According to Mazda, this figure would actually translate into CO2 emissions of 200 grams per kilometer if the production of the electricity used in charging the EV relied on coal. When converted to a well-to-wheel figure, the average CO2 emissions of an EV are about 128 grams per kilometer, while that of a current-generation SkyActiv gasoline engine with a comparable power output is 142 grams per kilometer. Mazda said that with as little as a 10% improvement in efficiency, its gasoline engine can achieve an emission level equal to that of an EV’s.

Mazda SkyActiv 2
Structure of the upcoming Mazda 3 carries the brand’s latest technologies. — ALL PHOTOS: BRIAN M. AFUANG

CORPORATE TARGET
A report issued in March by JATO Dynamics, a London-based supplier of data for the auto industry, found the fleet average tailpipe — not well-to-wheel — CO2 emissions of new cars in the 23 European markets covered by the study in 2017 was 118.1 grams per kilometer. Mazda was found to have a fleet average of 131.2 grams per kilometer.

To reduce this, the brand is partly relying on its upcoming SkyActiv-X engine, which Mazda said is capable of emissions cleaner than those of an EV’s when measured from well to wheel. By combining the combustion methods of gasoline and diesel engines to produce more torque while reducing emissions, SkyActiv-X revolutionizes the ICE.

And the ICE, Mazda asserted, will “power the majority of vehicles globally in many years to come, and can make the biggest contribution to CO2 reduction.” The car maker estimated that by 2035 only 5% of vehicles worldwide will be powered by fuel cell, 11% by electricity, and the rest by some form of ICE run by gasoline- or diesel-electric hybrid, CNG and LPG.

Still, Mazda said it is not “turning its back” on electric power technologies. It bared that while it would continue upgrading its current gasoline and diesel SkyActiv engines, it would also introduce an EV (with or without a range extender; meaning a small ICE that can recharge the battery) and a mild hybrid in 2019, models with built-in batteries in 2020, and its first plug-in hybrid in 2025.

As Mr. Kudo noted; “Mazda will develop the ICE but will not deny electrification.”

Meanwhile, the new-generation SkyActiv-X engine is set to debut in 2019 under the hood of the next Mazda 3 model, and would eventually be used in other Mazdas. “The SkyActiv-X concept can be applied on any displacement or number of cylinders,” Mr. Kudo said.

Mazda said it would release in 2020 its SkyActiv-D Gen 2 — its next-generation diesel engine. From 2030 to 2035, the car maker sees its product mix will include EVs, but will largely be composed of gasoline or diesel plug-in hybrids, and gasoline or diesel full hybrids. — Brian M. Afuang