Mazda video reaffirms new rotary engine
The modern rotary may be used for a hybrid range-extender.
Mazda has released a video that celebrates its 50-year history of rotary engines and reaffirms plans to revive the technology.
"Half a century has passed since Cosmo Sport with a rotary engine was introduced to the world and carved a new page in the history of the car, but the story of Mazda and Rotary is not over," the caption says.
The video slowly transitions through Mazda's history of Wankel-powered cars, ending with the RX-Vision concept that debuted in 2015.Some executives have voiced enthusiasm for a new halo sports car with a rotary powerplant. CEO Akira Marumoto last year cautioned that the current "business environment" precludes the company from building such a model in the near term. He vowed to work toward making "that dream a reality" at some point in the future, however.
Bringing the rotary engine into compliance with ever-tighter emissions regulations has been cited as the biggest hurdle to launching a new RX model. The Japanese automaker is considering using the technology as a range-extender for an electric vehicle, potentially taking advantage of emissions optimization at a specific rpm and generally offsetting the overall per-mile carbon output via battery power. Rotary engines' advantages in terms of compactness, energy density and low vibration also seem to be a good fit for a hybrid configuration.
UK-based Wankel engine builder Advanced Innovative Engineering has promoted the technology for hybrid cars, confirming that operating the engine "at consistently high load and rpm (with excess air)" brings significant reductions in hydrocarbon emissions versus 'throttling' across a wide rpm range for non-hybrids. The company is testing its rotary engine as a range-extender for an electric Nissan van.
Launching one or more plug-in hybrids with a rotary range-extender may justify further development spending at Mazda. If BMW's i3 and i8 serve as a blueprint, Mazda could theoretically use rotary hybrids for both a mass-market model and a performance-focused car that could serve as a spiritual successor to the RX series.
Many automakers appear to be adjusting their product roadmaps to accommodate a stronger focus on electrification. The trend may explain why rumors of a non-hybrid RX-9 debut in 2019 have yet to bear fruit. Mazda has kept a team of engineers focused on rotary tech in the years since the RX-8 was retired, however, and continues to file patents in the field.
Whatever Mazda plans to do with a modern Wankel engine, the project may be revealed to coincide with the company's 100th anniversary in 2020.