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Japan's eight automakers joining hands in eco-car project

TOKYO -- Japan's eight carmakers and two of the country's top universities are teaming up to do basic research on environmentally friendly engines. Even the government is kicking in some money for the project.

     By 2020, Toyota Motor, Honda Motor, Nissan Motor, Suzuki Motor, Mazda Motor, Mitsubishi Motors, Daihatsu Motor and Subaru maker Fuji Heavy Industries hope to commercialize diesel engines that can cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30% compared with 2010 levels. Each of the eight will apply resultant technology to both diesel and gasoline-powered vehicles.  

     The University of Tokyo and Waseda University will also take part in the endeavor.

     The idea is to get a leg up on European carmakers as well as to meet environmental regulations that continue to be tightened around the world. While demand is gradually growing for electric vehicles, the internal combustion engine will likely remain the car's main source of power for years to come. In 2020, it is estimated that combustion-powered vehicles will account for more than 90% of the cars produced worldwide.

     The joint project will make use of the carmakers' respective basic research findings in new engine development. All eight will send engineers and contribute funds. Their technology-sharing consortium, to be called AICE, will be headed by Keiji Otsu, managing director of Honda R&D, a subsidiary of Honda Motor.

     The engineers will be dispatched via AICE to the two universities' research laboratories. Together with university researchers, they will look into reducing the white smoke emitted from diesel engines as well as developing a simulation technology for a soot-removing catalytic device.

     These projects could cost nearly 2 billion yen (about $19.7 million) in the three years starting from fiscal 2014. Japan's government will subsidize two-thirds of the initial year's costs.

     Japanese automakers long held advantages in low-emission and higher fuel-efficient engines. In recent years, however, BMW and Volkswagen have caught up. Some auto industry watchers even say these German companies have overtaken Japanese carmakers in diesel engine technology.

     Some Japanese automakers have come up with impressive emissions-busting technology on their own. Mazda Motor, for example, has its Skyactive gas-sipping system. But with the global competition intensifying, the eight automakers have decided to go it together.

(Nikkei)

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