Japanese collaborate on r&d for new fuel efficient engines

The creation of AICE today acknowledges that internal combustion engines will remain the workhorse of global fleets for a long time. Photo credit: Hans Greimel

TOKYO -- Japan’s automakers, aiming to take the lead in fuel-efficient powertrains, have joined forces in a new consortium to develop the next generation of fuel-sipping combustion engines.

Their goal: A 30 percent improvement in the fuel efficiency of traditional gasoline and diesel engines by 2020.

The Japanese government will aid the country’s eight automakers by chipping in half of the project’s 1 billion yen ($9.9 million) budget. The automakers will foot the rest.

The r&d push is being organized under the newly created Research Association of Automotive Internal Combustion Engines. It pools the resources of Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co., Honda Motor Co., Mazda Motor Corp., Mitsubishi Motors Corp., Daihatsu Motor Co., Suzuki Motor Corp. and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., the maker of Subaru-brand vehicles.

Member companies will jointly conduct basic research on a better internal combustion engine. The objective is to share costs in an increasingly competitive, investment-heavy field to meet more stringent fuel economy guidelines, organizers said.

The r&d will eventually feed into production vehicles.

The strategy is patterned after a similar approach taken by competitors in Europe, organizers said. There, rivals cooperate with academia and the government on basic technologies, giving European carmakers a head start in cutting costs.

While Japanese automakers have developed advanced electric and hybrid drivetrains, the creation of AICE acknowledges that internal combustion engines will remain the workhorse of global fleets for a long time, especially in cost-sensitive emerging markets.

Organizers outlined a 10-year time frame for achieving world-leading advancements in combustion engine efficiency.

AICE will target both diesel and gasoline technology. Diesel technology, in particular, has been a weak point for automakers in Japan, where diesel vehicles hold just a sliver of sales.

Engineers target thermal efficiency rates for both approaching 50 percent. That compares with today’s best rates of around 39 percent for gasoline engines and 42 percent for diesel engines.

Higher thermal efficiency means more energy from internal combustion is captured for higher engine output.

Organizers said such a breakthrough could boost the fuel efficiency of gasoline and diesel engines 30 percent by 2020.

Diesel engine development will focus on eliminating particulate matter and nitrogen oxide emissions, partly through better particulate filters and exhaust gas recirculation systems.

Gasoline engine research will focus on achieving more complete combustion cycles and better ignition while reducing knock.

Keiji Ohtsu, managing officer of Honda R&D Co., Honda’s product development arm, will be AICE president.

You can reach Hans Greimel at hgreimel@crain.com -- Follow Hans on Twitter: @hansgreimel

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