Procedural changes

Demands to improve efficiency, safety and connectivity have to be met by every OEM, but Mazda’s head of European research explains how the company will take a different approach

There is a huge drive to reduce emissions, improve vehicle safety and provide greater levels of connectivity. Most OEMs are downsizing the combustion engine, reducing the number of cylinders and increasing the levels of charging. There’s also a growing number of advanced driver-assistance systems, connecting the vehicle to the infrastructure, and expected to lead eventually to autonomous vehicles. But not every OEM wants to follow the same pattern.

Speaking to Kenichiro Saruwatari, Mazda’s head of European research and development, is eye opening because he doesn’t give the same answers as most executives. Ask him about fully autonomous vehicles, for example, and he replies: “We want to become the last OEM to introduce such systems.”

It’s refreshing in an industry that can seem stale, as many follow an identical approach to the issues it faces.

Mazda isn’t immune from the legislation that is driving down emissions, nor is it blind to the fact that improving safety is a necessity, and that consumers want better connectivity, but Saruwatari says the company wants to achieve these goals using a different approach.

The firm’s method of reducing emissions is well known. It continues to use naturally aspirated gasoline engines with a much higher compression ratio of 14:1 – the same as used in its diesel units. And along with other components from its SkyActiv suite of technologies, it has managed to reduce CO2 emissions in vehicles such as the C-segment Mazda3 to 105g/km with a gasoline engine and
89g/km in diesel variants. And Saruwatari expects further gains to be made.

“We recognise that there is some space to improve efficiency even with a certain engine volume, so we’re now trying to establish the concept,” he says.

Mazda’s goal might seem ambitious, pushing combustion engine efficiency from its current place of roughly 40% to as high as 60%. “It’s a very early stage to say, but currently engine efficiency is around 40%, so we’ll try to improve that by using technologies such as lean burn and homogeneous charge compression ignition,” says Saruwatari.

Introducing those technologies could also be complemented by a further increase in the compression ratio to 18:1.

Mazda’s engineers are trying to balance the need to meet official test cycles with what occurs in the real world. But the difference between the two could be shortened with the introduction of the worldwide harmonised light vehicles test procedure, which could impact current downsized engines.

tags: April 2015 Mazda Powertrain