The evolution of the internal combustion engine continues, even as electric cars are waiting in the wings for their grand entrance. Mazda has just announced that its next generation of SkyActive engines will have no sparkplugs. Instead, they will use something called homogeneous charge compression ignition, or HCCI. It is a blending of gasoline and diesel technology.
Cranking up the compression ratio to around 18 to 1, the mixture of gasoline and air will explode on its own without the need of a spark. Mazda claims the result is 30% better fuel economy with lower emissions. According to Japanese trade journal Nikkei, the new HCCI engine will debut on the next generation Mazda3 sometime in 2018 before making its way to other vehicles in the Mazda lineup.
Other manufacturers such as GM, Mercedes and Hyundai have dabbled with HCCI research but abandoned it because the costs of development were too high. Managing heat, fuel flow, and emissions in a modern engine is a very complex task with many trade offs. Mazda has not released any details about driveability or longevity but we can assume it has conquered the challenges involved if it is putting the new engine into its highest volume production car.
While the future of driving is electric, it will be several decades before internal combustion engines disappear from the roads. Mazda is keeping one foot firmly planted in the past until such time as electric cars become the default choice for mainstream shoppers.
That doesn’t mean Mazda is not also thinking about the future. It is currently collaborating with Toyota on the development of battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. The partnership puts Mazda in charge of creating the next generation of high efficiency low emissions gasoline engines, which leaves Toyota free to focus on electric power trains.
Those Toyota developed powertrains will be made available to Mazda as needed. Nikkei says to expect a Mazda EV as early as 2019. Presumably, HCCI engines developed by Mazda will also find their way into various Toyota products as well. The internal combustion engine is dead. Long live the internal combustion engine!