Although production remains more than three years off, initial drives in prototypes fitted with Valeo SA's camless-engine system indicate the technology is a promising, fuel-saving alternative to hybrid-electric and diesel powertrains.

Valeo's camless engine uses electro-magnetic actuators in place of camshafts to operate the engine's valves.

Touted by the French supplier as encompassing the best attributes of diesel and gasoline engines, the technology can provide up to a 20% reduction in fuel consumption and emissions, along with a 20% boost in low-end torque.

During test drives in an '02 Peugeot 406 sedan outfitted with the system, the car's 2L, 4-cyl. camless engine performs flawlessly and provides the feel of a larger-displacement engine.

Rated at 138 hp, the 406's stock engine is hardly overpowering. But the camless system's torque improvements boost output from the stock 143 lb.-ft. (194 Nm) to more than 170 lb.-ft. (230 Nm).

The increase in torque is most noticeable at low engine speeds, where the midsize Peugeot, loaded with four adult passengers, pulls swiftly and smoothly from less than 2,000 rpm in fourth gear.

In addition, Valeo's work to quiet the electromagnets and soften the landing of the valves on their seats pays off, as there is only a slight increase in engine noise and vibration.

The system allows for infinitely variable valve timing, along with independent cylinder and engine valve deactivation capabilities, all of which are featured on the prototype's engine and can be monitored inside the 406 test car on a dash-mounted display.