By Gary S. Vasilash
Motor racing is a space where many OEMs have the opportunity to test out new technologies and to obtain learnings about performance at the edge.
Mazda Motor Corp. is participating in the Japanese Super Taiku Series, endurance racing that consists of seven rounds, including a race titled the “24 Hours of Fuji” (what a great name!).
Mazda is campaigning the Mazda2 Bio concept. This is a Mazda2 production car that has a Skyactiv-D diesel engine under its hood.
What makes this conceptual is that it will be running on bio-fuel, a product called “Susteo” that was developed by Euglena Co. Ltd.
This biofuel is made from things like microalgae fats and used cooking oil. Some biodiesels compete with food crops. Not this.
The fuel can be run in the diesel engine without modification.
The point is to help develop Mazda’s growing portfolio of vehicles that are meant to help the company reach climate neutrality.
There is a lot of discussion of powertrains for vehicles that can, like the Mazda2 Bio, use existing engines with varying degrees of modification rather than wholesale replacement, engines that can run on advanced liquid fuels or even hydrogen.
Let’s face it: There are lots of engine plants in the world, so keeping them running might be something that automakers would not be opposed to doing versus shutting them down.
However, as James Martin, associate director, IHS Markit Automotive Advisory Practice, an expert on powertrains, points out on this edition of “Autoline After Hours,” if there is combustion involved—whether it is spark- or combustion-ignited—there is going to be emissions.
So running hydrogen to power an engine and using hydrogen to power a fuel cell may both turn the wheels, but only the latter is going to be emissions-free.
Credit to Mazda for trying. But ultimately, the Super Taiku Series is likely to be powered by Tokyo Electric Power Co.
Martin says that there is momentum behind electric vehicles that is unlikely to be stopped, particularly as automotive companies announce billions of dollars of investments and investors announce their support of these advances by supporting the shares of the companies that are making the transition.
However, Martin notes, this isn’t going to be a flip-the-light switch phenomenon. Yes, Ford will sell you a Mustang with a 760-hp V8 under its hood. And Ford will also sell you a Mustang Mach-E with a 314-mile all-electric range. And that is likely to be the case for some time to come. (Yes, the same holds for an F-150 with and without an electric powertrain.)
Internal combustion engines aren’t going away next week, but Martin points out that while there are likely to be some new engine programs, there are unlikely to be new engine platforms. That is, what’s there can be modified. What’s not there will not be designed from the proverbial clean sheet.
Martin talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Lindsay Brooke, editor-in-chief of Automotive Engineering, and me on the show.
Among the areas visited are what becomes of some existing engines and how OEMs can wind down their production—which turns out to be a tricky proposition (Martin, when he was at GM, worked on the LT5 Corvette engine program, a 375-hp, 5.7-liter small-block V8 that was produced for GM by Mercury Marine; Martin was there when the engine was taken out of production: you’ll be surprised at the complexity of stopping production).
And, of course, the landscape of electric powertrains.
You can see it all here.