As the world charges onward towards a cleaner, greener future we can finally envision a planet whose reliance on fossil fuels is relegated to a mere fading memory. As more and more companies clamour for a footing in renewable energy production, so too is there a race to become the leader in the EV revolution that is fundamentally upending the auto industry. Car manufacturers like Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA), Nissan (OTC:NSANY) and GM (NYSE: GM) are at the forefront of this revolution, but the gap is rapidly closing as most of the major players play catch up, with countless startups hot on their heels vying for a piece of the pie. With many nations announcing an expiry date for the sale of fossil fueled vehicles, it seems prudent to follow suit; indeed it seems foolhardy not to.
With Volvo (OTC:VLVLY) announcing that it will cease production of all fossil fueled vehicles by 2019, how long is it until we see all car manufacturers following suit? This question is not as easy to answer as it may first seem, for while it is important for companies not to lag behind in the EV race, there are still many incentives for them to keep one foot in the past. The infrastructure of the traditional players is still very much geared towards production of the internal combustion engine (ICE), and profits are closely tied to parts and service of parts that simply do not exist in EVs due their relative lack of complexity. Added to that is the fact that EVs are currently too expensive for a large amount of consumers, as well as the fact that charging is simply out of the reach of many more. Where would you charge your vehicle if you lived in an apartment block, for example?
Perhaps then, the best course of action is to slowly phase out ICE production while ramping up EV production. With the distant yet inevitable ban in ICE sales, where is the incentive in its development? And yet one player in particular is doing just that. While it has partnered with Toyota (NYSE:TM) to create their own EV, Mazda (TYO: 7261) has announced development of an ICE that it claims will make it even cleaner than EVs.
Mazda’s Skyactiv-X engine is already an impressive technological achievement, using what it calls Spark-Controlled Compression Ignition (SCCI) which basically marries petrol and diesel combustion methods to provide the best of both worlds - diesel economy with petrol emissions. Mazda claims that a 2.0-liter Skyactiv-X engine provides up to 30 percent more torque, sharper throttle response, and a 20-percent improvement in fuel economy compared with Mazda's current 2.0-liter gasoline engine. Impressive as this is, Mazda is not resting on its laurels.
Currently in development, mazda claims its Skyactiv-3 will have even higher thermal efficiency (the amount of power that can be obtained from a set amount of fuel), an unprecedented 56 percent. That’s a staggering 230 percent more efficient than the average road car. This efficiency naturally leads to lower emissions, and if as Mazda claim they are indeed lower than EVs, what does this means in terms of the aforementioned ban on ICE sales?
With the looming cobalt crisis set to seriously hamper the transition to EV exclusivity, governments may have to reconsider such stringent deadlines, if indeed the goal for such a ban is the reduction of toxic emissions. As it stands, the argument for the ban is strong, and few would argue against the cleaner air in our cities that is its certain consequence. If the energy that charges our vehicles can be obtained from renewable sources, then the strong argument becomes almost infallible.
But the world is not standing still, and a ban on all ICE vehicles set 20 years into the future may be as short sighted as it is prescient. With so many automakers leaving one foot in the stagnant past as the other dips its toe tentatively in the waters of tomorrow, at least one manufacturer has both feet firmly planted in the future. Those feet may follow different paths, but perhaps they are both also pointing in the right direction.
By Gary Norman for Oilprice.com