Is the death of the internal combustion engine being foretold?


Nissan’s Leaf, a 100 % electric vehicle, is one of the latest battery-powered vehicles that are gaining popularity and support in Japan as well as European and American markets.

Last July, the British government announced that it will ban all new gasoline and diesel vehicles by the year 2040, following France’s announcement that it will do the same.

In the same month, Volvo announced that it will convert its entire lineup to only electric or hybrid vehicles after 2019.

Norway wants to end sales of new gasoline and diesel cars by 2025.

India wants all cars sold there to be electric by 2030.

China, the world’s biggest automobile market, has said it will eventually ban gasoline-powered and diesel-fed cars. Beijing is supporting the development of electric car technologies big time to reduce toxic levels of air pollution.

In Europe and the United Kingdom, a backlash against diesel cars swept the continent after several major carmakers, particularly Volkswagen, were discovered to be secretly cutting corners on emission standards.

Do all these herald the end of the internal combustion engine ?

Skeptics like to point out that only 1.1 percent of all cars sold globally in 2016 were electrics or plug-in hybrids and they are priced much higher than comparable fossil-fuel cars.

On the other hand, there were two million electric cars on the world’s roads in 2016, up 60 percent from 2015, according to the International Energy Agency.

While that is still a fraction of the roughly one billion vehicles on the world’s roads, climate change and global warming require a transition in the world’s transport industry from traditional fuels to cleaner forms of energy like hydrogen, liquefied natural gas and lithium batteries.

Regulatory pressure is revving up the electric push as government officials in China, Europe and the United States rachet up emissions standards and set or discuss deadlines that could eliminate gasoline and diesel cars within a generation.

China’s move toward higher emission standards and electric vehicles assures the big global automakers of a significant market for these cars and that their investments will be worth it.

Vehicle of the future

So, global automakers are in a race with one another to develop the vehicles of the future: battery-powered and self-driving cars.

Detroit’s Big Three—General Motors, Ford Motor and Fiat Chrysler—are squeezing more profits from mainstream products like mass-market vehicles, especially hot-selling trucks and sport utility vehicles, to finance the new technology needed for electric and self-driving vehicles.

GM announced plans last month for 20 all-new electric models by 2023, including two within the next 18 months. But GM will still continue building cars, trucks and SUVs with internal combustion engines.

After GM’s announcement, Ford let it be known that it would add 13 electrified models over the next several years, with a five-year investment of $4.5 billion.

Fiat Chrysler is accelerating its self-driving program in partnership with the German automaker BMW and suppliers like Delphi and Intel.

The upstart American automaker Tesla attracted hundreds of thousands of potential buyers who paid $1,000 deposits for its first mass-market electric autonomous vehicle, the Model 3 sedan.

German automakers Volkswagen and Daimler-Benz have pledged to build hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles in the coming years.

Competition is stiff since Japanese companies such as Toyota, Mitsubishi and Nissan have been retailing all-electric or hybrid models for many years now.

China’s car manufacturers, with huge incentives from the government, are leading the way towards full electrification of the country’s automotive industry.

Tech frontier

The rush to develop battery-powered cars is related to another technological frontier. Car manufacturers plan to build fleets of autonomous vehicles for ride-hailing services.

In fact, Uber and Lyft as well as Intel, Waymo (the driverless car business owned by Google’s corporate parent Alphabet), GM and Ford are testing self-driving cars extensively in Arizona, which has cultivated a rules-free environment for these cars, unlike California and dozens of other states.

Meanwhile, over here, the Department of Energy has announced its Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program which will promote electric and hybrid vehicles as an alternative, environment-friendly solution for our ageing jeepneys starting next year.

The Electric Vehicles Association of the Philippines (EVAP) welcomes the DoE’s pursuit of a long-term security strategy through fuel diversification including the PUV Modernization Program that would allow electric and hybrid vehicles to join the mainstream mass transport industry.

The PUV modernization program will reduce air pollution in urban centers and help speed up the development of the electric vehicle industry in the Philippines.

However, in this diesel fuel-loving Third World country, the death of the internal combustion engine cannot be foretold yet for generations to come.

Car enthusiasts worldwide, meanwhile, are concerned that they will lose the joy of driving if and when self-driving, battery-powered cars take over the auto industry to the detriment of the internal combustion engine.

Perfecting the internal combustion engine

So far, Mazda Motor Corp. is the only global carmaker working to avert the death of the internal combustion engine.

At the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show last October, Mazda president and CEO Masamichi Kogai told the media that to address problems facing the earth, Mazda’s Sustainable Zoom-Zoom 2030 would perfect the internal combustion engine, and combine it with effective electrification techniques.

Sustainable Zoom-Zoom

2030 will apply a well-to-wheel philosophy to cut carbon dioxide emissions to 50 percent of 2010 levels by 2030, or in other words, maximize greenhouse gas reduction under real-world conditions.

Predicting that internal combustion engines will power more than 80 percent of vehicles globally in the foreseeable future, Kogai said Mazda must take a multi-solution approach that offers a mix of combustion engine, hybrid and electric vehicles.

Mazda’s SkyActiv-X engine, Kogai said, employs a proprietary combustion technique that enables spark-controlled compression ignition of a lean air-fuel mixture over a wide range of driving conditions.

He claimed that SkyActiv-X will combine the high-revving performance of a gasoline engine with the superior fuel economy, torque and response of a diesel engine.

SkyActiv-X features both environmental performance and uncompromised power and acceleration, fully supporting the Jinba-ittai “car and driver as one” driving experience that Mazda cars provide, Kogai affirmed.

After all, the fundamental appeal of the automobile is driving pleasure, and Mazda aims to continue offering true driving pleasure without harming the environment.

(Updated/ reprinted with permission from AQ, the magazine of the Automobile Association Philippines.)

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