Toyota teams up with Subaru & Mazda to develop eco-friendly engines

Toyota is taking a bold step to breathe new life into the internal combustion engine (ICE) by developing a carbon-neutral fuel, positioning itself against the trend of a complete shift toward electric vehicles (EVs) being pursued by major automakers such as General Motors, Ford, Volkswagen, and Mercedes-Benz.

During a comprehensive three-hour “multipathway workshop” on Tuesday, Toyota President and CEO Koji Sato outlined the company’s ambitious strategy to achieve carbon neutrality using synthetic e-fuels, biofuels and liquid hydrogen.

Unlike its competitors, Toyota has maintained that the auto industry can reduce greenhouse gas emissions more quickly and efficiently by offering a variety of alternative powertrains, including hybrids and plug-in hybrids, technologies it has pioneered for years. Toyota’s multi-pathway approach involves refining ICE technologies to make them compatible with carbon-neutral fuels.

In its innovative strategy, Toyota plans to collaborate with Subaru and Mazda, encouraging the development of “signature engines” while working jointly on alternative fuels. Toyota’s signature powerplant will continue to be used in hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), including small ICEs. Subaru will focus on horizontally opposed engines, and Mazda aims to revive its iconic Wankel rotary engine.

Sato said, “The three engines, which share similar aspirations in achieving carbon neutrality, will refine engine technologies through friendly competition.” This collaborative effort underscores the unified goal among automakers to improve ICE technologies for the electrification era and expand the possibilities of carbon neutrality.

Mazda Motors Corp. President and CEO Masahiro Moro expressed confidence in the rotary engine’s compatibility with electrification and carbon-neutral fuels. “Mazda will continue to develop technology through co-creation and competition to ensure it can make a broad contribution to society,” Moro said.

Similarly, Atsushi Osaki, president and chief executive officer of Subaru Corporation, emphasized the company’s dual approach, which includes refining electrification technology and upgrading its horizontally opposed engines to eventually use carbon-neutral fuels.

Despite Toyota’s optimism, the efficacy of carbon-neutral synthetic fuels and biofuels remains uncertain, as the workshop did not delve deeply into the technical details of these fuels. In the early 2000s, carbon-neutral alternative fuels were a hot topic among automakers, oil companies, and startups. However, Tesla’s success and subsequent focus on EVs changed the industry’s focus.

Hydrogen remains part of the discussion, thanks to developments by Toyota, Hyundai, Kia and Honda, although its infrastructure lags behind EV recharging networks. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Climate Portal, the carbon neutrality of hydrogen depends largely on the production process used.

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