By on November 19, 2013

Wankel-1

Plans for a ressurected rotary engine appear to have hit a snag with Mazda CEO Masa-michi Kogai claiming that the required volumes for commercial viability are unrealistic.

Speaking to Automotive News, Kogai said that a new rotary engine would need to hit volumes of 100,000 annual units, a figure considered unrealistic

“No plans now,” Kogai said in an interview Friday. “It has to be a viable commercial proposition. If we are going to adopt it, it has to be a product that can generate at least sales of 100,000 units a year. We have to be able to achieve a profit.”

However, Kogai said that research on the rotary engine will continue, specifically with regards to alternative fuels. The rotary engine has so far been able to run on hydrogen and even kerosene in additional to gasoline, and Mazda doesn’t appear to be discontinuing rotary R&D any time soon. However, Kogai’s mission is focused around improving profitability, and increasing efficiencies is his first priority.

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71 Comments on “Mazda Boss Scuttles Rotary Revival...”


  • avatar
    DevilsRotary86

    I know this was inevitable, but it still makes me a sad panda.

    I just hope they keep parts for existing cars available, or at least license the production out to someone who will.

    • 0 avatar
      imag

      I agree. The 16X promised to be something truly special.

      The aluminum block would have cut a bunch of weight. The larger displacement would have added torque. It presumably had another round of engineering on combustion and apex seals.

      I was really hoping they would make good on their promise to get it in the next Miata platform as a 2+2 RX model in 2017. I was actually planning the purchase.

      Coupled with the news from Honda that they will not be building a new sports car in the foreseeable future, this is a sad day.

  • avatar
    healthy skeptic

    Wouldn’t a rotary engine be ideal for the ICE component of serial hybrid drivetrains? They’re small and lightweight, and the lack of low-end torque probably wouldn’t be as problematic, since they’d be running at more-or-less constant higher RPMs.

    • 0 avatar
      imag

      Apparently they are, and Mazda was developing a version that would do exactly what you describe.

      It sounds like they are still leaving that possibility open, at least with hydrogen or natural gas as a fuel.

    • 0 avatar
      jz78817

      they’re still less efficient than piston engines.

      • 0 avatar

        Way less efficient, and inevitably so. I wrote about them in ’04, and had they had any potential for better fuel economy, I would have gladly bought an RX-8. But just one problem is that from the point of view of combustion efficiency, the ideal combustion chamber would be as close as possible to spherical, to minimize heat loss. But the rotary combustion chamber is almost two dimensional–flat–the worst possible shape.

        I had an RX-8 for a week while I was writing the article. It was wonderful to drive. But 22 mpg even under good conditions–not nearly as good as a Corvette.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    I am no expert on internal combustion, and have never even driven a rotary, but this feels like a decision that was 30+ years overdue. Lousy fuel economy, lack of scale within the industry, reliability issues with rotor tips and lack of interest from mainstream consumers were more than sufficient to scare away every other automaker long ago.

    I am glad Mazda still exists and know that they need to be thoughtful about how they spend their scarce development funds. Moving on from the Wankel just means they can focus on more mainstream technologies that will reinforce their core models and allow them to stay alive. All good.

    • 0 avatar
      imag

      All good unless you want a reasonably priced lightweight sports car that isn’t a four cylinder.

      • 0 avatar
        jz78817

        “All good unless you want a reasonably priced lightweight sports car that isn’t a four cylinder.”

        yeah, well you and that other guy aren’t enough customers to justify the investment.

        • 0 avatar
          DevilsRotary86

          And admittedly I daily drive an Acura RSX Type-S. Though not buying an RX-8 was a little painful.

        • 0 avatar
          imag

          I know that. I said that it was probably a good business decision.

          But car enthusiasts are often at odds with good business decisions. And plenty of us are tired of four cylinders. With rare exceptions, they sound like crap.

          • 0 avatar
            racer-esq.

            “And plenty of us are tired of four cylinders.”

            The turbo inline-3s are coming:

            Honda S660
            Honda 1.0T announced today
            Fiesta 1.0T
            BMW/MINI 1.5T
            Caterham 7 160

            “BMW sales and marketing boss Ian Robertson told reporters that the new three-cylinder engine ‘behaves like a six-cylinder, is half-of a six-cylinder and has the noise of a six-cylinder’.”

            http://www.carscoops.com/2012/10/listen-to-sounds-of-bmw-new-15-liter.html

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            The auto majors are engaged in a race to the bottom.

          • 0 avatar
            DevilsRotary86

            Funny, two rotary engine fans here who can’t agree on anything except that rotaries are cool :)

            For me, I love 4 cylinders and how they sound. I will only buy 4′s or rotaries.

          • 0 avatar
            imag

            DR – I agree with most of what you have posted. Except possibly buying an RSX :)

            That said, I may now cave and get a BRZ, as soon as they get out one with more horsepower.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        @imag: What’s wrong with a 4-cylinder? An FRS is a pretty good lightweight sports car, for example, as was the Honda S2000, and… the Mazda Miata. You never hear Miata owners yearning for a rotary.

        The rotary’s benefits (on paper) don’t translate into superior actual road performance and racing wins, but they do provide their owners smug bragging rights similar to the drivers of the early Prius.

        • 0 avatar
          jz78817

          well, one thing I think has some basis in reality is that a Wankel is not as tall as a 4-banger (even one canted to one side) so it could have handling benefits due to allowing a lower c.g.

        • 0 avatar
          imag

          I am considering an FRS/BRZ. I just lament the dull sound. The boxer actually can sound interesting with unequal length headers, but it’s still not like a good six or eight. The S2K does not sound good to me, much as I respect the motor.

          As far as the rotary not winning races, I have to contest that. The rotary was so dominant that it was banned. More recently, Mazda had plenty of success with their RX8 running a 20B.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      @VoGo – you’re exactly right. I’ve driven a rotary a couple times; it’s a unique experience, but not all in a good way.

      Finally, Mazda is beginning to wake up from the Kool-Aid.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      At the time Mazda released a rotary-engine powered car to market (1972), its fuel economy compared favorably enough with its contemporaries and fuel economy was not a priority. By contrast, using a thermal reactor and running the engine a bit rich provided an easy way of meeting emission standards of the time with better driveability. For its size and weight, the rotary was quite powerful; and it was much smoother than the 4 cylinders of lesser output, which lacked balance shafts. Finally, with a redline of 7,000 rpm — with power usable right up to and beyond that speed — the rotary engine was leagues above reciprocating engines, most of which had a 5,000 rpm redline with usable power only up to 4,000.

      Assuming the car was not allowed to overheat and was properly oiled, the apex seals lasted as long as piston rings in most reciprocating engines of the time.

      So, it’s hard to see how introducing the rotary was a mistake. The problem — probably unknown at the time — was that its development potential was not as great as the reciprocating engine. The rotary is not thermally efficient, with a relatively large combustion chamber surface area for its volume. And, there’s no easy way of varying the timing or duration of valve opening as is now commonplace on reciprocating engines.

      So, the Mazda folks mad the right call. And yes, I owned one of the first Mazda rotaries (RX-2) for 5 years. It was stone reliable but needed new seals by the time I sold it. . . and was thirsty.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Good analysis. The rotary was (mostly) competitive when it was first launched. But while the piston engine has since evolved, the rotary hasn’t, and it probably can’t.

      • 0 avatar
        jz78817

        “Finally, with a redline of 7,000 rpm — with power usable right up to and beyond that speed — the rotary engine was leagues above reciprocating engines, most of which had a 5,000 rpm redline with usable power only up to 4,000.”

        I’m not sure I understand why some people believe redline is of any importance other than for internet bragging.

        • 0 avatar
          DevilsRotary86

          Because power in horsepower at a given RPM is equal to torque in foot pounds at that RPM multiplied by that RPM divided by 5252.

          Or, more succinctly:

          P(r) = (T(r) * r) / 5252
          where P is power in horsepower
          T is torque in foot pounds
          r is engine speed in RPM.

          So for a given size of engine producing a given amount of torque, the faster an engine can spin the more power it can produce. For example, my Acura RSX Type-S produces all of 140 ft-lbs of torque. If it were limited to the usual 6,500 RPM redline it would only make about 170hp. Instead it spins clear up to 8,000 RPM and makes 200hp.

          Power in a piston engine is equal to PLAN. P is pressure, L is length (aka length), A is area (aka bore), and N is booms per period of time (aka RPM). To make more power you must increase one of those 4. A bigger engine yields more L and A. A faster engine yields more N. A turbocharger, supercharger, better cams, better intake, better exhaust yields a better P. In the case of forced induction a MUCH better P.

          Remember that N is inversely proportional to L. As N increases L must decrease or vice versa (neglecting improvement in material quality of the crankshaft/conrod/etc). My personal preference for power is a high N, sacrifice L, and have a larger engine through A alone. P is nice but I haven’t gone down the turbocharging route (yet). A good example of the sort of engine that I love is the 4.2L Audi V8 in the Audi RS4 and R8. The stroke is only 84.5mm but the bore is 92.8mm. The torque is a “mere” 317lb-ft but the horsepower is a high 420hp at 7,800 RPM.

          I admit that it’s a far more expensive way to get power than the simple method of “put in something bigger”, but I feel that it’s just the right way to do things.

          • 0 avatar
            jz78817

            #1 I know all that, I don’t need the “schooling.”

            #2 you seem to boil it down to personal preference. Like I said, internet bragging.

            “So for a given size of engine producing a given amount of torque, the faster an engine can spin the more power it can produce. For example, my Acura RSX Type-S produces all of 140 ft-lbs of torque. If it were limited to the usual 6,500 RPM redline it would only make about 170hp. Instead it spins clear up to 8,000 RPM and makes 200hp.”

            so what? another engine can make the same 200 hp at a lower rpm and have better around town drivability. Cars have these things called “gears.” I don’t care if your wundermotor revs to 8k rpm if I practically never run it there.

            I was asking why a higher redline is somehow “important.” I was NOT asking why you like it more.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            “I was asking why a higher redline is somehow ‘important.’”

            He answered you. The ability to rev allowed the rotary to achieve relatively high output per liter from a light engine that didn’t take up much space, good attributes for a small sports car at the time. Not particularly competitive by today’s standards, but it was then.

          • 0 avatar
            DevilsRotary86

            jz78817,

            Yes, it is personal preference. But it is not just for “internet bragging”. I simply find just using a larger engine to be a lazy and cheap solution. A higher revving engine will simply be less responsive (longer stroke and wider heavier pistons) to wind up, and generally have a better power to weight ratio.

            “so what? another engine can make the same 200 hp at a lower rpm and have better around town drivability. Cars have these things called “gears.” I don’t care if your wundermotor revs to 8k rpm if I practically never run it there.”

            Well, I do wind it up to at least 7,500 RPM no less than 3 times every drive, and above 6,500 more times than I can count. Plus, my car has wonderful in town drivability. If I want to accelerate to pass or merge into traffic, I just downshift to 1st or 2nd gear if I am in town and 3rd or 4th gear if I am on the highway. If I want to cruise I just run in 5th or 6th for city and 6th for highway.

            Honestly, if my car had a larger engine I probably would have passed on it and kept looking for something else. Like a new FR-S or a used RX-8 or an Infiniti G37 coupe.

          • 0 avatar
            SCE to AUX

            “Well, I do wind it up to at least 7,500 RPM no less than 3 times every drive, and above 6,500 more times than I can count.”

            Although it’s fun, you do this because you have to – otherwise the car is a dog.

        • 0 avatar

          In fact, my recollection from ’04, when I wrote about the rotary, is that the motive part of the engine–the part that’s generating the torque–is turning at only about half the claimed RPM. It’s the crank–which is doing nothing but tranfering the torque to the transmission–that’s turning at the rated RPM.

      • 0 avatar
        WheelMcCoy

        Another thanks to “DC Bruce” for the insight on rotaries.

        Sadly, while piston engines can evolve, rotaries can only revolve. :)

        As for flirting with the redline (@jz78817) try it sometime. It’s fun (rotary or piston) and can create a nice sound (rotary not so much because it’s too quiet).

    • 0 avatar
      snakebit

      VoGo, it’s actually 40 years overdue.

      I remember driving the economy-aimed R100 coupe around 1970, and being uphappy with fuel economy compared to my 510 and Capri. My view is Mazda has spent the most engineering and real world time perfecting the rotary, and if they can’t design it to be more practical, no one can. I’m also worried that the niche Mazda customer, including Mazda3 and Miata fans like me, don’t want a rotary engine anywhere near their products. Mazda has so far made some very good choices when it comes to their cars, and the rotary engine just wastes good engineering money after bad, and Mazda can’t afford that these days, and I want Mazda to stay in the product mix for me and my friends.

  • avatar
    grzydj

    Uh, has he ever used the internet before? If he had, he’d know darn well that there’s a very successful business case to be made for a diesel rotary Miata wagon with a manual transmission. The entire internet would buy one right now.

    R.I.P. Mazda.

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    Since I am looking forward to the next Miata, and many more to come (I’ve owned an NA and an NC, so I’m not just a talker), I am glad to see Mazda not insist on killing itself chasing the rotary.

    I came close to getting an RX-8, and would have if it had a proper daily driver engine.

    With its reliability and fuel economy issues the rotary is a track day/race car engine, I don’t know what Mazda was thinking putting in a four-seat daily driver.

    I have never seen the figures comparing the rotary’s weight to the the 2 liter I4 in the 500 pound lighter Miata, anyone have them?

    • 0 avatar
      imag

      The previous rotaries, with iron blocks, were not actually that light, though they were small.

      The next rotary, the 16X, was going to have an aluminum block, which would give it a much better hp/weight ratio than a Miata or anything else without a lot of forced induction.

      • 0 avatar
        racer-esq.

        I am seeing 210 pounds for the RX-8 Rotary:

        http://www.rx8club.com/series-i-tech-garage-22/how-much-does-rx8-engine-weigh-218783/

        And 220 pounds for the Miata 2.0 liter I4:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Zetec_engine

        I believe the 220 pound weight for the Miata engine may be high since the 2nd source lists “shipping weight”, and therefore includes packaging and possibly some engine accessories not included on the RX-8 engine when it was weighed.

        It would be interesting to see the impact of an alumnimum block, but even if it cut the weight 25% that would only add up to 53 pounds.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        @imag:

        “The next rotary, the 16X, was going to have an aluminum block”

        Sounds similar to the lamentation of Pontiac fans. The next car was always the savior.

        For all of its merits, the rotary never offered a compelling reason for its existence except its novelty. Reliability, driveability, and cost of ownership were always worse than competing cars.

        • 0 avatar
          imag

          If you think the three generations of RX7 were not compelling cars, I don’t know what to say. The RX8 is still a faster car than the BRZ/FRS, and it has rear doors.

          On a reliability basis there have been issues at certain times, but plenty of folks have loved cars with reliability problems: Jags, old Alfas, all Ferraris ever, etc. And original RX7s are known to go over 200K miles in a racing environment when treated well.

          • 0 avatar
            SCE to AUX

            The gen-1 RX-7 was compelling 30-some years ago, and sales reflected that. But soon word got out about the multitude of real-life ownership issues, which also included rust. At a time when engines were adopting EFI and becoming more reliable, the Wankel seemed stuck in the bad old days that nobody wants to revisit.

            The Wikipedia entry for the RX-7 reads like a puff piece penned by an enthusiast, with NO mention of “seals” or “reliability”, two keywords that inevitably arise in discussions of Mazda’s rotary-powered cars. The entry for the rotary engine itself is more even-handed, however.

          • 0 avatar
            imag

            First you said never, now you say 30 years. I still say it’s more recent.

            The FD is still known as one of the greatest driver’s cars of the decade. It was light, so it had its issues, but lightweight low volume cars always have (see Lotus).

            And every Japanese car of that era (most cars period) had rust issue in the snow belt. But I had a CA 85 GSL in the 90′s that was pristine.

            Ultimately enthusiasts cars are almost always a tradeoff. If you want an appliance, buy a Toyota.

            To me, it is worth a bit of sacrifice to have an enthusiast option with a high output small displacement motor that loved to be driven hard. I realize that I am in the minority, but that doesn’t make the cars any less joyful. The world is a better place for the Lotuses, Caterhams, and RX7s that were bought by the few who appreciated them. If practicality were the most important thing in the world, it would be a dull world indeed.

    • 0 avatar
      DevilsRotary86

      I can’t speak to the engine in the new Miata, but rotaries are a hobby of mine. The weight Renesis is hard to pin down, but it’s about 270lbs to 300lbs fully dressed (what is “fully dressed” is the source of the vagueness of rotary weight).

      The actual block and flywheel without accessories, intake manifold, exhaust manifold, or turbos weighs about 155lbs. This figure for the bare block hasn’t actually changed much for the entire production run of the 13B from 1985 until 2011. The real weight is found in the rest of the engine equipment. For example the twin turbo in the third gen weighed around 390lbs.

      The big problem for weight with early rotaries was that giant cast iron lump that they called an exhaust manifold or “thermal reactor”. Switching to a good set from Racing Beat can really drop the weight of an older rotary.

    • 0 avatar
      DevilsRotary86

      “With its reliability and fuel economy issues the rotary is a track day/race car engine”

      I can’t get too much into detail this second but I will just say this. The rotary is actually an aircraft engine at heart. When I get home later I will go into deeper into this if I have time.

    • 0 avatar
      Redshift

      It’s not just about the weight of the rotary, it’s also the compactness that allows it to sit lower and further back in the care resulting in a lower polar moment of inertia.

    • 0 avatar
      DevilsRotary86

      So, in regards to my assertion that the rotary is an aircraft engine at heart. I will only touch on one reason that I think the rotary engine is a plane engine.

      First is the obvious problem of tip sealing. One of the problems of the rotary is that the tip seals have a tough time sealing gasses from one chamber to the next. The seals are pressed into the housing surface by a set of 2 springs resting between each seal and the rotor. There is something though that will work better to press the seal into the rotor housing than any spring. Centrifugal force. As the rotors spin faster, the seals are rammed into the rotor housing far more firmly than the springs could ever do. The faster the rotor spins the better the engine seals. Now consider a car, even a race car. It is constantly dropping to very low RPMs as the car brakes. Airplanes on the other hand will let an ICE engine drone at the same relatively high RPM for hours on end.

      To that end, here is a company developing an FAA certified aviation rotary engine.
      http://www.mistral-engines.com/

      And a US Army UAV using a rotary engine.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AAI_RQ-7_Shadow

      Video of a guy with a homebuilt experimental rotary kit plane:
      search “Rotary SE Rotary” in Youtube.

      I mourn the loss of the rotary in auto use, and I dread not finding parts for my RX in the future. But I genuinely think that auto use was not the right use of a rotary, and I think it might have a brighter future in aviation use.

      • 0 avatar
        Redshift

        Excellent point about use in aviation. The RE is very common in that due to light weight for power delivered, compact size, and high reliability in in NA form.

        At the Deals Gap Rotary Rally a few years ago to one of the race shops that now had a good business going with aviation engines. I forget the exact details but he was building all aluminum 3 rotor engines with were coming in under 300 lbs ready to install as I recall.

  • avatar
    SatelliteView

    Well, good that Mazda’s CEO is cool-headed

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    The required MPG due to CAFE, and displacement in the EU and China makes this impractical. A niche creation for a niche sports car doesn’t make much sense. Finally, Mazda had solid experience with forced induction.

    Still miss the RX8 [INSERT IT HAD NO TORQUE HERE]

  • avatar
    sirwired

    The rotary was a nice, groundbreaking idea, and it makes sense for racing applications, but if the reliability and efficiency problems were solvable, they probably would have figured them out by now.

    Sticking a fork in it was the right plan, especially for cash-constrained Mazda.

  • avatar
    npaladin2000

    Kind of sad news, but it’s a good business decision. As-is the rotary has been a niche engine, and a business case for it would require broad availability. If they could R&D the thing into a V6 replacement, maybe. In fact, since they have no V6 plans, that’s probably not the worst idea.

    Anyway, right now SkyActiv is selling like hotcakes, and so is Kodo. Taking their eye off the ball would be a bad move, so it’s smart of them to move rotary research off to the background for now. Grow the business and be profitable for a while.

    • 0 avatar
      davefromcalgary

      Many comments here agreeing this is a sound business decision, and I too see it that way. Mazda is still a small company volume wise, so to me it makes sense to focus on whats really working for them to grow and become stronger before focusing on something like a next gen rotary.

  • avatar
    raph

    Pffft… Where were you with a quad rotary motor Mazda!?

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    There’s a way to make this engine reach the sales he wants: make it an optional engine for Every Single Model Mazda Sells! Don’t just drop it into a single ‘benchmark’ model. I mean sure, the RX series was great, but too limited. My pizza delivery guy took a Miata and stuck a rotary in it and absolutely loves it! He says he gets better gas mileage than it ever did on the original 4-banger.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      I have an RX-8, but I often think of swapping the engine for something with more power & torque. And if I did that, I’d also love to take the rotary and drop it in a Miata where it’s deficiencies won’t be so noticeable.

      And of course, I’d have to get custom badging for an “MX-8″ and an “RX-5.”

  • avatar
    Flybrian

    Isn’t this the engine that’s ‘so good’ that Mazda gave its owners an additional one for no charge…?

  • avatar
    HiFlite999

    Sad indeed. I luv my RX-8, by far the best handling, most fun street car I’ve ever driven.

  • avatar
    Redshift

    While I grudgingly admit it’s a reasonable business decision, I still shed a tear for my beloved spinning Doritos.

    Upside is, since I no longer need to save for a new car in 2017, this winter my RX8 and the RX7s are getting some upgrades.

  • avatar
    NMGOM

    Here is something I always wondered about with regard to rotary engines:

    1) Felix Wankel was a German engineer;
    2) He patented his invention in Germany;
    3) German car companies (7 then) have a history of innovation and desire to explores new technologies;
    4) Not a single German car company commercialized the Wankel engine in any of their vehicles.

    Why?
    Did they figure out rotary-engine issues, for the long term, that we just didn’t understand in 1970?

    —————–

  • avatar
    redav

    First, I believe the reasoning for this decision is sound and wise. But the 100k/yr threshold is bit high, IMO. At this point, the rotary is an indulgence, and Mazda can’t afford that right now. Thus, I cannot criticize the decision.

    That being said, I hope Mazda gets on sound-enough financial footing that they can afford the luxury to sell another RX car, and short of that, sell the 16X as crate motor. After all, eating healthy is good, but having some dessert now and then is a good thing.

    Thinking of the rotary’s weaknesses, I have to wonder how much improvement it would have seen if all the car companies made them. Similarly, how little improvement in the piston engine would there have been if only one company had worked on it? FWIW, as long as I’ve known about the rotary, it’s always been a step behind piston engines. I do believe there is room to make it better in efficiency, emissions, etc. But when that is done, the same improvements will be had from pistons. I don’t see a way it will ever leapfrog the piston engine.

    I know others have joked about this, but I actually wonder if the particulate filters used on diesels and their tendency to increase oil levels could actually help the rotary. Since one of its problems is unburned hydrocarbons like diesels, the filter should improve emissions directly. If the system suffers the same problem of the fuel ending up in the oil, and since oil is injected into the engine (and burned) anyway to lubricate the apex seals, contamination may not matter too much. And rising oil levels would actually be maintaining oil levels. Owners already have to check/change oil frequently, so that’s not an added expense.

  • avatar
    Kaosaur

    *sigh*

    I guess I finally give up on ever seeing an improved rotary.

    By the way, if anyone wants a clean 10th Anniversary RX-7 daily driver, I’m selling.


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