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Mazda claims new gasoline engine is world's most efficient

Skyactiv-X is up to 30% greener than current model, will hit the road in 2019

TOKYO -- Mazda Motor has developed what it claims is the world's most fuel-efficient gasoline-powered engine, the carmaker said Tuesday. 

Called the Skyactiv-X, the engine is the first gasoline model that ignites the fuel-air mixture through compression, like a diesel engine. Standard engines use sparks to set off combustion.

Diesel fuel self-ignites at high temperatures. The Japanese carmaker said self-ignition enables higher fuel efficiency than spark-ignition, which tends to cause the fuel to burn unevenly inside the combustion chamber.

Mazda says the Skyactiv-X is 20-30% more fuel efficient than its current Skyactiv-G engine.

The Skyactiv engine is mounted in its best-selling SUV, the CX-5 crossover. 

Going with gasoline

Mazda's focus on diesel and gasoline engines contrasts with its rivals' embrace of electric vehicles.

Germany's Volkswagen, for instance, has shifted toward electric cars after it was revealed that the company had manipulated mileage numbers for its diesel engines.

Volvo, meanwhile, says it will only sell electric or hybrid cars from 2019.

Some governments are moving in the same direction, with the U.K. and France declaring they will ban sales of gasoline and diesel cars by 2040. 

Mazda argues that a faster way to bring greenhouse gas emissions under control is to make diesel and gasoline cars more efficient.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Mazda executives cited a forecast saying that 85% of vehicles sold in 2035 will still use internal combustion engines, as a greater share of car sales will come from developing countries that have little or no infrastructure for electric vehicles, such as charging stations and extensive power networks.

Mazda is not ignoring electric cars, however. It plans to develop electric vehicles with Toyota Motor, with which the company announced a comprehensive capital and business partnership last week.

On Tuesday, Mazda said it will roll out hybrid and electric vehicles in 2019. 

For now, however, the company intends to focus on improving on its diesel and gasoline engines.

Mazda is looking to develop hybrids, which run on electric motors at slower speeds and on gasoline engines at higher speeds. It says that developing a hybrid will be easier with a more efficient engine, as that would enable the use of a much smaller motor and battery than seen in current hybrids.

"I think [the British and French governments] know that electric cars won't be able to replace gasoline cars so soon," said Kiyoshi Fujiwara, Mazda's chief of innovation.

Fujiwara added that he thinks "internal combustion engines will continue to play a role" because they incorporate hybrid and other emission-reducing technologies.

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