Mazda: New Engine for Survival

October 20th, 2010  |  Published in Mobility & Space, On the TechWatch, TechWatch Japan

As next step as independent car manufacturer Mazda presented today new technologies to reduce the fuel efficiency of its cars by 30 percent by 2015. As first step Mazda will introduce two new internal combustion engines (ICE) under the project name „Skyactiv“, a gasoline engine with the world`s highest compression ratio and a diesel engine with the world`s lowest compression ratio. „I am sure, that they will become the new world benchmark for internal combustion engines“, says Seita Kanai, Senior Managing Executive Officer in charge of R&D and Program Management.

The next-generation gasoline engine “Skyactiv-G” promises to improve fuel efficiency of a Demio (Mazda2) by about 15 percent vs. the current model and a fuel consumption of 3,3 liter per 100 km. This is achieved mainly by pushing the compression ratio from around the global norm of around 11 to 14 (according to Mazda a world record for mass production vehicles). The engine will be used in the new Demio, due to be launched in the first half of 2011.

The next-generation diesel engine “Skyactiv-D” will improve fuel efficiency even by 20 percent. The breakthrough in this case is reduction of the compression ratio to 14 (the world’s lowest this time), which allows the engine to suck a few km more out of the diesel fuel. Its launch date is 2012.

Furthermore, the Japanese put its automatic and manual transmissions as well as the platform on diet. The new AT is supposed to reduce fuel consumption by 4 to 7 percent. And the new platform will cut the vehicle weight by 100 kg (or 14 percent) and thereby the fuel consumption by another 3 to 5 percent.

The announcement comes at a critical time for Mazda. According to media reports its longterm partner Ford wants to reduce its stake in Mazda from 11 to 3 percent in the near future. Mazda CEO Takashi Yamanouchi did not comment the news, but mentioned, that that the Skyactiv technologies are designed „as enabler“ of an independent survival.

But also in terms of technology the company „feels alone“, admits a manager. While other companies are hyping electric vehicles and hybrids, the small and financially weak company has to stick to its ICE. Electric and Hybrid vehicles the company will offer at a later date.

And to make the feeling of isolation worse, in contrast to the German manufacturers and Nissan, Mazda is not focusing on downsizing and turbo-charging the ICE, but on improving the internal combustion to reduce fuel consumption an increase output. „We are down-speeding the engine“, says the manager.

According to Mazda the benefits of this approach are cost reductions and future viability. Turbo-chargers are expensive. In addition Mazda feels, that the turbo-charged route is not viable beyond 2016, because it is less suitable for lean burning, a method that will likely become the next step in ICE technologies.

Another trick to reduce costs is, that Mazda a) applies the same theory for all its engines (thereby reducing development costs) and b) will produce the engines all on the same production line (thereby cutting its fixed capital investment).

“Impressive presentation“, commented a car guy, „they have mapped out their road-map much better than I had expected.“ However, whether the company will be able to survive on its own, remains to be seen. But I have to qualify my comment about the Mazda: It has nothing to offer in new power trains, but in the traditional ones it is still among the world top players.

By the way, a next-generation rotary engine is not on the horizon. Its development will take more time, said Kanai.

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