DETROIT -- Hyundai is working on a 1.8-liter engine that works like a diesel, but burns gasoline.
If the engine makes production, Hyundai officials say, it could deliver a 25 percent fuel economy gain over a comparable gasoline engine -- about the same gain as a diesel -- but it would cost less to buy and operate.
Diesel fuel currently averages about 60 cents more per gallon than regular gasoline in the United States. Unlike many of today's diesels, the Hyundai engine does not require a system that injects urea into the exhaust to reduce emissions.
Hyundai calls the engine a GDCI, for gasoline direct compression ignition. With compression ignition, the pressure in the cylinder ignites the fuel. Compression ignition is used in a diesel engine, whereas a spark plug burns the fuel in a gasoline engine.
The Hyundai GDCI engine has no spark plugs. It uses both a supercharger and a turbocharger and has exhaust valves that open twice instead of once per cycle. The extra opening draws in heat, which along with the pressure of being compressed in the cylinder, ignites the fuel.
Hyundai plans to begin vehicle testing next year in a fleet of Sonatas.
"We are still really early in the development stage, but it is looking very, very promising," said Nayan Engineer, Hyundai's manager of engine design and testing.
Hyundai has been working on the concept and has partnered with Delphi Corp. and the University of Wisconsin.
"The technology is very promising, and we believe it will be a game-changer," said John Juriga, director of powertrain engineering at the tech center.
In dynamometer testing, the GDCI engine is developing around 180 hp.
The engineering work and testing is being done at Hyundai's technical center in suburban Detroit, near Ann Arbor, which is being handed a greater role in the company's powertrain development.
Juriga said Hyundai has adopted a new powertrain strategy that calls for innovation.
"We need to stop being the fast follower and be the leader," Juriga said. "So we're making changes in the way we think and do business."