Can Koenigsegg’s clever invention reinvent the internal combustion engine?

Engineers and analysts were understandably skeptical when Sweden-based supercar manufacturer Koenigsegg announced plans to design a piston engine that operates without a camshaft. Reinventing the engine as we know it is a Herculean task, but the QamFree technology has just made a big step toward production.

QamFree technology is being developed by FreeValve, a Swedish research firm billed as Koenigsegg’s sister company, and its first customer is China-based Qoros.  A fully functional version of the cam-less engine destined for production was displayed recently during the Guangzhou Auto Show.

The QamFree engine works by replacing the camshaft with pneumatic-hydraulic-electronic actuators that control valve operation, a process which essentially allows the engine to breathe. As a result, valve duration and lift are more precise than with a rotating camshaft.

The engine expected to inaugurate QamFree technology is a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder unit tuned to make 230 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. FreeValve explains its invention gives the four-banger 47 percent more power and 45 percent more torque than a 1.6-liter equipped with a camshaft, while improving gas mileage by 15 percent.

The QamFree engine is also more affordable to build, much lighter, and more compact than a traditional engine. That’s because it functions without a number of key components such as a throttle body, a timing gear, a wastegate, and a direct fuel-injection system.

Now that it has built a drivable prototype, Qoros will work jointly with FreeValve to put the technology through its paces in order to refine it. When it’s ready, the QamFree engine will land in showrooms under the hood of a yet-unnamed Qoros-badged model. Sales will likely kick off in China, the brand’s biggest market by a long shot.

The technology isn’t exclusive to Qoros. Koenigsegg’s supercars will likely use it as soon as it’s ready for production, and FreeValve is willing to license it to other automakers. What remains to be seen is whether it’s the next breakthrough on the path to cleaner cars or whether it will fizzle like the Wankel engine, which made many of the same promises.

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