Sunday, October 2, 2011

SKYACTIV Technologies

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I work at a Mazda dealership.  Up until recently, when people came into the dealership and asked what Hybrid vehicles were available from Mazda, all I could say was we were working on Hydrogen using a rotary engine but nothing close to production-ready.  However, the set of technologies that Mazda is introducing this Fall under the SKYACTIV badge is something worth talking about and provides a viable alternative to the array of hybrid technologies now being offered by competitors.

In fact, almost every major car company now has a hybrid, full electric, or a fuel efficiency story regardless of the brand's positioning.  The Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt are already arriving in showrooms now.  But Mazda has taken a different approach with its new SKYACTIV advanced engine technologies.   Mazda is positioning itself to be in the same category as the hybrids in fuel economy but with improved driving dynamics (and without many of the negatives that still plague hybrids).  Mazda was showing its next-generation highly-efficient direct-injection gasoline engine with the world’s highest compression ratio of 14.0:1 at the 2011 Frankfurt AutoShow last month as part of the launch of the 2013 CX-5.  

The SKYACTIV Technologies deal with improvements to all aspects of the vehicle to make it eco-friendly while improving on the fun-to-drive element of the ownership experience.  The three core areas targeted by SKYACTIV are:
  1. Engines.  Mazda has found that a lot of the wasted energy in a litre of gasoline (or diesel) can be put to use propelling the car by using direct-to-cylinder fuel injection, innovative piston head designs, an increased compression ratio, continuously-variable sequential valve timing, and a new 4-2-1 exhaust system to improve performance, reduce emissions, and reduce fuel consumption.  Mazda has decided it's too early to give up on the internal combustion engine!
  2. Transmissions.  For the SKYACTIV automatic transmission, Mazda developed a torque converter with a lock-up clutch that improves on competitive designs (including dual clutch, CVT, and conventional transmissions).  The result is a quick shifting, low friction transmission that minimizes noise, harshness, and vibration.  For manual transmissions, the objective was to produce a compact gearbox for front wheel drive drive applications that delivers the exceptional feel of the MX-5 (Miata) but with reduced internal friction and improved efficiency.
  3. Vehicle Structure/Chassis.  Through the use of high tensile steels, Mazda has been able to build an extremely rigid body while reducing the weight of the vehicle.  Reducing vehicle weight improves handling and efficiency.  The chassis bolted to this structure features new suspension geometry, shorter steering gear ratio, and new trailing arm positioning to provide greater high speed stability, excellent ride comfort, and improved braking.
 An important point to mention with regards to Mazda's SKYACTIV initiative is that this represents not only an eco-friendly project but a re-thinking of every aspect of the automobile.  While many manufacturers have introduced one or two special models such as hybrids and electric vehicles, the rest of their respective line-ups have remained relatively unchanged.  To its credit, Mazda has decided to take on the challenge of re-working its entire product line to deliver outstanding eco-friendly and safety performance to every customer without sacrificing driving pleasure.

The first of these SKYACTIV Technology vehicles begin arriving on dealership lots in late October 2011 in the form of the 2012 Mazda3 (sedan) and Mazda3 Sport (hatchback).  Other models will be transformed over the next couple of years.