In Pursuit of a Technological Middle Ground


The past weeks have been littered with news of the ongoing push toward electric and automated vehicles in the car industry. However, Mazda may have produced what some are calling a major twist in the developing story of modern automotive technology.

In what is being deemed a true breakthrough, Mazda engineers have been able to produce a combustion engine that has eliminated the need for spark plugs. Instead, the engine will utilize compression to ignite, an alteration that will allegedly increase fuel efficiency by upwards of 30%. The result is a traditional petrol vehicle that can reach the level of efficiency thought to be only possible with diesel engines. Effectively, if this technology sticks, our gasoline vehicles will see an unprecedented increase in range and efficiency without any increase in emissions.

While the electric vehicle will certainly be dominant in years to come, is it reasonable to suggest that the combustion engine deserves continued development? While Europe has seen numerous locales promise the wholesale ban on gasoline vehicles in the coming decades, North America is yet to reach such a stance. In fact, countries like the US may be moving in the opposite direction. This week, the Trump administration has ordered a wholesale review of the vehicle efficiency standards set in place by the Obama White House, in what some are suggesting is a preamble to the dismantling of efficiency regulations. The move stands in line with Trumps commitment to revitalizing the American auto industry, as creating more lax fuel efficiency laws will allow automakers to save big money by slacking in the creation of engine technology. The result would be higher emission vehicles with less range, a combination that hurts both the environment and the consumer, but benefits the car maker.

When we see a world that has countries that are promising a gasoline vehicle ban, as well as those that are beginning to dismantle environmentally sound regulations, we can understand the extreme polarization of automotive policy. In tying the development of Mazda’s efficient engine into the fabric of the modern automotive landscape, it becomes clear that the auto manufacturer has found a refreshing gray area in a world that is too often black and white. The pursuit of vehicular electric technology has led to a widespread resentment of combustion vehicles, which has alienated those who don’t necessarily feel the pressure to transition to electric power. Conversely, the Trump administrations drive to loosen efficiency standards has the opposite implication. The rolling back of efficiency measures resembles a wholesale push back against electric vehicle growth, and flies in the face of global environmental trends.

Mazda’s dedication to the development of the combustion engine therefore presents an elusive middle ground. The automotive world seems all too keen to abandon one thing in favor of complete commitment to another, when in fact we should be applauding those who find a way to do both. The truth is that no matter how beneficial electric vehicles may be, there are social communities around the world that will find it extremely difficult to transition to electric power. As such, the pursuit of cleaner combustion engines is a compromise that keeps both the environment and the gasoline favoring consumer in mind.

As we barrel towards continued change in the car world, maintaining this middle ground is critical. The legislation of gasoline bans or, conversely, the loosening of environmental standards are both measures that will alienate groups in society. Instead of demanding complete and total change, perhaps we should instead focus on the technological caveats upon which we can all agree.

Mazda’s combustion breakthrough shows us this centrist approach to development. The combustion engine has been a faithful servant of vehicular society for over a century, and perhaps finding a way to perfect what we already have will best serve both the environment and the consumer.

Instead of treating automotive growth as a zero-sum winner-takes-all industry, the maintenance of a breadth of technology may be the most appropriate way forward. Electricity remains the path of the future and undoubtedly deserves our support, but not at the cost of eliminating development in the combustion world. Creating a market that showcases both extreme efficiency in gasoline vehicles as well as the most modern electric technology gives the consumer the best of both worlds, while still placing the environment first.

Adrian Dion