Detroit automaker General Motors Corp. says it is testing a new combustion process that could increase fuel economy in conventional engines by up to 15 percent. The announcement comes as fuel economy has become an increasingly important issue due to rising gasoline prices. Foreign automakers have captured a bigger share of the U.S. market in part by emphasizing fuel efficiency, with hybrids such as the Toyota Prius having significant success. The process GM is testing, called homogeneous charge compression ignition, approaches the fuel efficiency of a diesel engine without the need for advanced pollution controls, the company said in a statement. Currently, the technology is being tested in two drivable concept vehicles, a Saturn Aura and an Opel Vectra, and was to be shown to reporters Friday at GM's proving ground in Milford.
The process ignites an air-fuel mixture in the cylinders by compressing it, producing a low-temperature, flameless energy release in the combustion chamber. Since all the fuel in the combustion chamber is burned at the same time, the engine uses less fuel to produce power that is similar to conventional engines. Although GM gave no estimate of when the technology might come to market, the company said it still needs to work on controlling the combustion process. "Additional development costs, including research and testing programs, are required to make the technology ready for the great variety of driving conditions that customers experience," said Uwe Grebe, executive director for GM's powertrain advanced engineering.