Why Mazda Is Betting its Future on Gasoline

Mazda turned heads at the LA Auto Show this week with the new Mazda3, a strikingly-styled compact sedan and hatchback set to go on sale early in 2019. The new 3 isn't just a daring design—it's the first car to feature the automaker's revolutionary Skyactiv-X engine, engineered to unlock huge improvements in fuel efficiency by burning gasoline using compression ignition under certain driving conditions.

Skyactiv-X is the key to Mazda's future plans. The automaker believes that its "spark plug-controlled compression ignition" will allow it to keep refining and advancing the internal-combustion gasoline engine as far into the future as 2050. Mazda is betting it all on the notion that internal combustion has a long and prosperous road ahead.

At the LA Auto Show, I sat down with Jay Chen, powertrain manager for Mazda North America, and Dave Coleman, engineering manager at Mazda NA, to talk about Skyactiv-X, and find out more about why Mazda feels so optimistic about internal combustion. Both Chen and Coleman are former automotive journalists, having worked at Sport Compact Carmagazine before finding their way to Mazda's engineering department. It was a great chat.

So why is Mazda so bullish on gasoline compression ignition? "It goes back to the Mazda determination," Chen said. "We did it with the rotary, we did it with a whole bunch of stuff. Everybody else says, 'nah, it can’t work.' We stuck with it because we really saw the value of the technology. Part of it is that we are a company of engineers, not bean counters, and so we said, 'we want to make this thing.' This is the right way to the future, we’re going to make it happen."

Chen points out the difference in Mazda's strategy. Other automakers seem to be hedging their bets, pursuing numerous different drivetrain strategies that are keyed to different regions' regulatory structures. Mazda prefers to focus on one strategy, tweaking it regionally but applying it worldwide.

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