Torque (Singapore) - - MITSUBISHI SPECIAL -

FOR en­thu­si­asts, the en­gine or “heart” of a car is just as im­por­tant as its de­sign, if not more im­por­tant. Af­ter all, a car’s pow­er­train ex­erts enor­mous in­flu­ence on the car’s over­all char­ac­ter and per­for­mance. Pow­er­trains are some­thing that Ichiro Hirose knows well. The 57-year-old, who marked his 34th year with Mazda last month, has spent most of his ca­reer work­ing in the car­maker’s en­gine-re­lated di­vi­sions. Although Hirose-san joined Mazda in 1984, his first sig­nif­i­cant ap­point­ment only came in 2009, when he was made gen­eral man­ager of the En­gine De­sign En­gi­neer­ing Depart­ment. In 2011, he be­came the deputy gen­eral man­ager of the Pow­er­train De­vel­op­ment Di­vi­sion.

The fol­low­ing year, he was sent to Ger­many where he as­sumed the post of vice-pres­i­dent at Mazda Mo­tor Europe. Af­ter a two-year stint, he re­turned to Pow­er­train De­vel­op­ment, a di­vi­sion he has stayed in for the past four years.

Hirose-san’s di­vi­sion is cer­tainly mak­ing waves for Mazda. At the 2017 Tokyo Mo­tor Show, the man­u­fac­turer an­nounced Sky­ac­tiv-X, a new petrol en­gine that prom­ises huge gains in per­for­mance and ef­fi­ciency through the use of very high com­pres­sion ra­tios. Torque had a quick chat with the vet­eran en­gi­neer, who not only ex­plained the tech­nol­ogy to us, but also men­tioned the re­turn of ro­tary en­gines to fu­ture mod­els.

How does Sky­ac­tiv-X work?

It is the first com­mer­cial petrol en­gine that pri­mar­ily utilises high com­pres­sion to ig­nite the fuel-air mix­ture (like a diesel en­gine) in the cylin­ders. In ef­fect, it com­bines the ben­e­fits of a petrol

en­gine and a diesel mo­tor. Petrol en­gines have smoother de­liv­ery and greater horse­power, whereas diesel units of­fer higher ef­fi­ciency and more low-end torque.

Mazda’s cur­rent Sky­ac­tiv-G petrol en­gines have a com­pres­sion ra­tio of 13:1. The new Sky­ac­tiv-X en­gine will ex­ceed this ra­tio. Un­for­tu­nately, due to con­fi­den­tial­ity is­sues, I can­not pro­vide the fig­ures.

What sort of ef­fi­ciency gains can Sky­ac­tiv-X of­fer?

Com­pared to a cur­rent Sky­ac­tiv-G en­gine of sim­i­lar dis­place­ment, a Sky­ac­tiv-X en­gine will im­prove fuel econ­omy by 20 to 30 per­cent, while pro­duc­ing 10 to 30 per­cent more torque, too.

How long has Sky­ac­tiv-X been in de­vel­op­ment?

It has been three years since we started. But we will only launch it in 2019, so the to­tal de­vel­op­ment time is four years.

Since Sky­ac­tiv-X uses higher com­pres­sion ra­tios com­pared to Sky­ac­tiv-G, will the en­gine need high-oc­tane petrol? Is there a min­i­mum RON re­quire­ment?

Usu­ally, high-com­pres­sion en­gines re­quire higher oc­tane to pre­vent pre­ma­ture det­o­na­tion, which is known as “knock”. How­ever, we de­signed Sky­ac­tiv-X to take ad­van­tage of this “knock”. There­fore, lower RON means bet­ter fuel econ­omy.

That said, we en­gi­neered Sky­ac­tiv-X to use a min­i­mum of 91 RON. The ad­van­tage is that this grade of fuel is more widely avail­able not just in the ASEAN re­gion, but glob­ally, too.

Af­ter 2025, all new Mazda mod­els will ei­ther be petrol­elec­tric hy­brids or fully elec­tric. Will the lat­ter mod­els have range-ex­ten­ders?

Our first full elec­tric ve­hi­cle will be in­tro­duced in 2019, and it will have a range­ex­ten­der, which will be a ro­tary en­gine.

How big will this ro­tary en­gine be?

[Laughs] Right now it is a se­cret. But it will be a ro­tary en­gine.

What’s the min­i­mum ex­pected range from Mazda’s pure elec­tric ve­hi­cle?

We’re still con­sid­er­ing this. The range will also de­pend on how ad­vanced bat­tery tech­nol­ogy will be then.

Hav­ing driven var­i­ous elec­tric cars, you must have found that no mat­ter the brand, the power de­liv­ery is sim­i­lar. How will Mazda dif­fer­en­ti­ate its mod­els?

We will en­sure that our elec­tric car fol­lows the Jinba It­tai (“horse and rider are one”) han­dling phi­los­o­phy, so that it stands out.


APRIL 2018

The Kai con­cept previews the nextgen­er­a­tion Mazda 3 hatch­back, which will be pow­ered by a Sky­ac­tiv-X en­gine.

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