The Rotary's Returning, Says Mazda, But There's Some Things to Take Care of First
For five years now, Mazda has hinted, then promised, then reassured us that a rotary-powered sports car will return to the company’s lineup, ready to fill a spot left vacant by the departing RX-8 in 2012.
We’re still waiting and, Mazda now informs us, we’ll be waiting quite a bit longer. While the cylinderless gasoline engine holds promise as a range-extender in electrified vehicles (something powertrain chief Mitsuo Hitomi feels is a definite future use for the powerplant), that’s not something Wankel fans want to hear. They want to spin that engine up to eleventy billion rpm and drop the clutch.
It’ll happen, says Mazda’s senior managing executive officer, Kiyoshi Fujiwara, but something’s cropped up that pushed the rotary’s return to the back burner. That thing is the company’s gasoline compression ignition engine, the Skyactiv-X.
“If we achieve success [with Skyactiv-X] probably we can have money enough to invest in the next challenge, then we can judge to go ahead,” Fujiwara told Australia’s Drive at this week’s Tokyo Motor Show.
However, the development of the revolutionary sparkless gas engine, expected to launch in the 2019 Mazda 3, means the rotary will be a no-show at the automaker’s 100th birthday. “In 2020 we cannot provide RX-Vision in the market, we will not have enough money to invest in commercializing RX-Vision,” Fujiwara said of the slinky rotary-powered concept car unveiled in 2015.
Once there’s cash in the till to fund the rotary car’s development, Mazda will move forward. However, the result of the product planning might not be completely pure, depending on where you live. Emissions concerns and the need to offset the Wankel’s notable thirst means whatever rotary car Mazda develops will likely require an electrified model to slot alongside the gas-only model.
In that vehicle, the rotary would provide extra range once the battery pack has exhausted its charge, or once the driver leaves the urban limits of a city that bans the use of combustion-engine vehicles. Other markets will still allow a rotary-only powertrain, so that’s still part of the game plan.
“Like autonomous driving, electrification… [environmental regulations] cannot allow for only internal combustion engine,” said Fujiwara. “Some of the cities completely ban so some electrification is needed. It’s coming later so we have to consider this kind of technologies have to be installed, so these kind of technologies have to be developed even for the RX-Vision.”
Despite the creeping regulations and the public’s thirst for SUVs, Mazda has no intention of turning the future model into something untraditional. There’s no other bodystyle in mind for this model.
“No, just one. Lightweight sports car,” said Fujiwara.
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