Tiny Mazda Motor Corp. is betting that its out-of-the-box approach to powertrain engineering has achieved what rivals 10 times its size have not: A workable compression-ignited engine that combines the best traits of diesel and gasoline engines for powerful, yet ultra-clean performance.
The new engine — dubbed Skyactiv-X by Mazda and described by some experts as the "holy grail" of powertrain technology — is a risky yet necessary gambit for Mazda as it races to stay competitive on a shoestring budget as rivals invest heftily in costly electrified cars.
In unveiling the technology Tuesday, Aug. 8, Mazda said the new engine will boost torque by up to 30 percent and improve fuel efficiency by up to 30 percent over the current line of Skyactiv-G direct-injection engines Mazda began rolling out in 2011.
Mazda said it will deploy the Skyactiv-X engine in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2019, making it the first automaker to commercialize the technology. Compression ignition, which has eluded engineers for decades, is a critical next-step Skyactiv offering for Mazda as it confronts stricter emissions regulations with little help from electrification.
"People have called it the holy grail because it combines the best benefits of the gasoline and diesel worlds," said Dean Tomazic, executive vice president and chief technical officer at FEV Group, a powertrain engineering company.
"But it is not without its challenges or we would have seen it in the market already," Tomazic said. "People have been working on it for a long time. It's almost a running joke that whenever you ask when the technology will be ready for production, the answer is always in the next 10 years."
Mazda has a penchant for zigging while the industry zags. Mazda proved its aptitude in 1967 when it pioneered the revolutionary rotary engine and again more recently when it became an early adopter of lean-burning, high-compression combustion in its Skyactiv engines.
This time, competitors from Tokyo to Detroit to Wolfsburg are following conventional wisdom by investing in battery power. But Mazda is sticking to its play book of improving the humble internal combustion engine.