Mazda sees a future for the petrol engine, in the near to mid-term at least, and is preparing to take the next step in low-emissions petrol development with a technology called homogenous charge compression ignition, or HCCI.
At its core the revolutionary engine with HCCI combines traits of petrol and diesel engines with the ability to go without spark plugs, instead generating combustion through the compression of petrol fuel in a similar manner to how a diesel engine operates.
Under the right conditions, HCCI can run in an incredibly efficient manner unable to be matched by a traditional four-stroke petrol configurations.
Other automotive manufacturers, including General Motors, Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz, have trialled the technology as a means of improving fuel efficiency however Mazda is now widely tipped to be the first company to offer a HCCI engine to the public.
Later this month Mazda is expected to reveal an important insight into its HCCI program, however senior Mazda engineer, Kenichiro Saruwatari, told TMR the next-gen engine’s introduction is “top secret”, saying only that it will be available “sometime in the near future”.
The most likely candidates to receive the new engine first will be the next-generation Mazda2 and Mazda3 light and small cars.
Saruwatari says Mazda has revisited the “traditional idea” of HCCI, which has been around since the 19th century, saying Mazda “always thinks about how to make the combustion more efficient”.
As the next-step of Mazda’s SkyActiv fuel-saving technologies the planned HCCI engine will be capable of running both as a regular four-stroke petrol engine with spark plugs, or through HCCI depending on operating conditions.
Saruwatari pointed to the difficulty of getting an engine to run on an HCCI cycle at all times, which although mooted by rivals in concept form, isn’t a production feasibility yet.
“It is very difficult to use the use the HCCI at all times,” Saruwatari says.
“In certain area it needs to use the combustion area with the sparkplug – it is mixed.
“At high RPM, high load there is no spark plug.”
As well as Mazda’s efforts with HCCI other automakers are looking to alternatives for traditional engine design, with Infiniti having shown its plans with variable compression, while Hyundai has patented a system of variable displacement.
Australia may not have access to the new technology at first though, with the high sulphur content of local fuel, long a source of hindrance to carmakers, potentially limiting the adoption of high-tech engines in the future.