Why, though, persevere with petrol and diesel when other manufacturers are moving towards electrification?
“There are two main reasons,” explains Uwe Kracht, vehicle team manager at Mazda Motor Europe. “Firstly, we still believe combustion engines offer great potential. For example, up to 30 per cent of the energy from these engines is still getting lost. The second reason is that we are convinced that in 2020 more than 80 per cent of cars will still use combustion engines.”
Mazda calculates that its goals for improving fuel economy and CO2 emissions by 2015 would only otherwise be possible if either half of its new passenger cars were hybrids or almost a quarter of them were full electric vehicles. Given the current take-up of such vehicles, it’s an unlikely situation.
SkyActive is the first step
The company’s first step towards that 2015 economy target was SkyActiv, a range of cleaner powertrains and lighter chassis and bodyshells that has already reached production in the shape of the CX-5 compact SUV, due in British showrooms this spring.
Of course, Mazda isn’t ruling out a fully electric car for the future, and it has already forged a licensing deal with Toyota to develop a hybrid that is expected next year. Kracht says: “For further development, we are following a ‘building block’ strategy, with SkyActiv at its base. We will develop the electrical applications in steps until perhaps some time in the future we will finally end up with an electric car.”
The first building block in the foundations of SkyActiv was Mazda’s stop-start system. Called i-Stop, it will be fitted to all future SkyActiv petrol and diesel engines, and already appears on some models, including the 3 and 5. The system can restart the engine in a single compression stroke, something that Mazda claims is an industry first.
The Takeri concept is part of the second building stage and introduces the i-Eloop, the company’s regenerative braking system. Used in conjunction with the other SkyActiv developments, it contributes to impressive economy figures. “When Takeri is adopted with the SkyActiv 2.2 diesel engine, six-speed automatic transmission, modified i-Stop and i-Eloop, we can achieve the fuel efficiency of a hybrid, as well as outstanding dynamic performance and a cruising distance of 1500km [932 miles],” says Kracht. “With the SkyActiv technology we can already improve fuel economy by about 20 per cent from 2008 levels. With i-Stop and i-Eloop we can achieve another 10 per cent, so that we can meet our target of 30 per cent in 2015. I’m quite proud that we were the first to think of this idea of the capacitor. It is really a new generation of energy storage.”
Emissions of 106g/km
Mazda believes CO2 emissions for this specification of the Takeri could be as low as 106g/km. By comparison, the cleanest version of the current Mazda 6 produces 133g/km. That should mean the car could return in the region of 70mpg, an improvement of 15mpg over the existing, frugal Mazda 6 2.2D Business Line.
Mazda’s third building block will be to assess motor drive technologies, including the hybrid link-up with Toyota, looking at petrol, plug-in and hydrogen hybrids. In the meantime, the other building block technologies will still be moving forward. For example, future iterations of i-Eloop could use recouped energy to assist acceleration.
Environmental acceptability is only one of three attributes that Mazda wants its future production models to convey, along with bold design cues and a pleasing driving experience. “It’s a package: very efficient engines, compact transmissions and very light bodies,” says Birtwhistle. “But you can still drive these cars quite spiritedly, and because of all those inherent savings you’re still getting good fuel consumption and very good CO2 figures.”
Mazda’s concept car designers also had to incorporate the latest technology into the Takeri, and the dimensions of the SkyActiv-G direct-injection petrol engine have had an impact on the shape of the car. “The SkyActiv engine features an exhaust manifold that exits at an angle, to get a clean, efficient flow of exhaust gases,” says Birtwhistle. “To make space for that, we had to push the cowl point and passenger area backwards. For a car of this size, that’s a plus point and, together with quite short overhangs, gives the car the look of a classical sporting limousine.”
As bold as the Takeri’s design is, it’s the technology under the skin that could have more impact. Mazda talks about the need to develop ‘multi-solutions’ to the environmental challenges facing car firms; it may not believe fully electric technology will dominate the market place, but nor does it think future cars will rely solely on fossil fuels.
Instead, Mazda’s vision of the car market in 2020 involves a blend of internal combustion engines and range-enhancing, emissions-reducing electric technologies – such as hybrids, stop-start and regenerative braking systems.
With its SkyActiv technology, Mazda makes a compelling case for the longevity of petrol and diesel as power sources. As far as it’s concerned, the future of the internal combustion engine is only just beginning.
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