Mazda has made its reputation as an innovator in internal combustion engine technology. Way back when, it glommed on to the Wankel engine and made it work when nobody else could. That led to a mini-boom in rotary powered vehicles, including a pickup truck, family cars, and the utterly divine Mazda Cosmo sports coupe that was way ahead of its time and the precursor to the iconic Mazda RX-7. I autocrossed an RX-7 — a black GSL-SE beauty — for many years. I still remember the sound of that rotary engine screaming to red line and digging hard for more.
The luster of the rotary engine has faded, but Mazda has kept its engineers busy designing ever more efficient internal combustion engines. It has made an alliance with Toyota — if the bigger company will share its hybrid and electric car technology with Mazda, the smaller company will share its ICE technology with its big brother. That way, both companies get a competitive edge without a duplication of effort.
Recently, Mitsuo Hitomi, Mazda’s managing executive officer in charge of powertrain development, announced his company is working on new internal combustion technology that will equal electric cars in well to wheel carbon emissions. It will be called SkyActive 3 and will follow close on the heels of the SkyActive X engine that has just been unveiled. The X specification is a gasoline engine with many of the characteristics of a diesel, including better fuel efficiency but with lower emissions.
The SkyActive 3 engine will be better still. The goal is to improve thermal efficiency by more than 25% over current engines. That would make the new engines 56% efficient and that’s the point at which they become competitive with electric motors, Hitomi says. The comparison to an EV is based on electricity derived from a natural gas-fired generating plant. When computing the well to wheel emissions of a vehicle equipped with a SkyActive 3 engine, Mazda included the emissions associated with the extraction of oil and the refining of gasoline.
Hitomi did not offer a timeline for delivering the Skyactiv-3 technology, but he said it would give the internal combustion engine a much longer lease of life, according to Automotive News. Looks like “boing, boing” will still be a part of the world of wheels quite a bit longer than expected. One can only speculate whether such efficient engines might induce the nations who say they want to ban internal combustion engines to change their minds.