By on August 30, 2018

It seems like we get a new update about Mazda’s plan for the rotary engine every few months. The automaker kept tinkering with the technology after the RX-8’s demise, but efficiency mandates left the high-revving Wankel on the sidelines, prohibiting the introduction of a true successor to the rotary coupe. Yet the motor hung around as the company’s likely solution for hybrid cars, recharging the battery while electric propulsion takes care of forward momentum.

While that makes the probability of an RX-9 sound rather bleak, the company doesn’t want anyone to give up hope. Mazda still desires such a vehicle and the company’s European vice president of communications, Wojciech Halarewicz, has basically said it will be a done deal if they can find enough money in the budget for a flagship sports car.

“We know that electric cars will be important in 2020 to 2025, but also that EVs are not the answer for everything,” Halarewicz told Piston Heads. “Combustion engines will still play a part, and if you asked me if I want a rotary sports car at the top of the range, I’d say yes I’d love to have one. Many of my colleagues would too. So it’s a matter of keeping the sales growth going to make sure we can do one in the future.”

That’s not exactly a definitive promise, but with Mazda having spent good money to advance rotary technology, primarily in the service of range extension and prospective hydrogen applications, it would be silly to presume they haven’t learned a few tricks along the way. Maybe there’s already an upsized rotary waiting in a warehouse somewhere, ready for action.

Mitsuo Hitomi, Mazda’s head of engine development, has already hyped the rotary’s potential as a gasoline-driven energy supplement for EVs. While it’s not the most efficient design, it can be made dead silent when operated at a constant speed. Last year, Hitomi said Mazda was working hard to make the setup work as an effective range extender. He noted that the automaker would continue developing a full-sized rotary even if it failed in that role.

Around the same time, Mazda admitted it wanted another RX model, but said it had to be careful. “We have twice had bad experience for rotary engines for our financial situation, therefore we have to carefully consider and carefully decide how to do that,” explained Kiyoshi Fujiwara, Mazda’s head of research and development. “Some of the stakeholders and shareholders cannot allow it at this moment. If we can get more robust business structure, I can explain it, I can get approval. If it’s needed.”

None of this would be noteworthy if we didn’t keep hearing everyone at Mazda saying the exact same thing. Once Mazda has a little extra cash to burn, it can build the RX-9 and its electric push will be a major deciding factor. Mazda’s first EV in scheduled to launch in 2020, thanks to help from Toyota, and more models are to follow. Meanwhile, brand sales have remained robust within Europe and North America, slipping ever so slightly (globally) in 2017 and coming back relatively strong for the first half of 2018.

We’ll have to see how Mazda’s EV sales pan out before we allow ourselves to become preoccupied with the concept of rotary-powered performance model. However, the automaker made patience a difficult virtue to maintain with 2015’s RX-Vision Concept. Mazda’s designs are frequently incredibly sexy and the hypothetical RX-9 remains one of the best-looking automobiles we’ve ever seen.

[Images: Mazda]

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18 Comments on “Spinning in Circles: Mazda’s Rotary Ambitions Still Very Much Alive...”


  • avatar
    nels0300

    All the other automakers’ bean counters have to be laughing that Mazda still messes with the rotary.

    Who knows, maybe Mazda will finally have some breakthrough and harness nuclear fusion energy with a rotary.

    As a hybrid range extender though? Seems Mitsuo would be better off sourcing crate LS1s.

    • 0 avatar
      Shortest Circuit

      Ten years ago Audi’s experimental A1 e-tron, which sadly never made production used a constant-speed Wankel range extender. Surprisingly, after a spirited run at a heavily guarded test track I asked the engineer when is the RE stepping in? He told me it was running the whole time…
      So no, other automakers are not laughing at Mazda.

      • 0 avatar
        nels0300

        So Audi tried it again ten years ago and shelved it. Why aren’t companies using them as range extenders?

        I’m guessing it’s because they’re gas hogs, which isn’t anything new.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          yep. Wankels and turbines are great at power *density* (power output per unit of mass or volume) but still lag piston engines on thermodynamic efficiency (power output per unit of fuel consumed.)

          turbines have the additional disadvantage that their “compression ratio” goes down as the load on the engine is reduced.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Next generation rotaries are to Mazda what solid state batteries are to Toyota – always 2 years away. They’re perfect partners.

    Mazda needs to wise up and spend their limited resources on products they can actually sell.

  • avatar
    jmo2

    The B&B truely are the worst people in the world.

    Yes, maybe in terms of pure dollars and cents a 10 year old Yaris is the cheapest way to cart your fat aß to the cube farm. But man does live on bread alone! For once, let a man indulge in fanciful creations and asprire to more than mere practicality.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    Mazda:

    Build me an RX-9 before I go buy an RX-7, and by build me an RX-9, I mean build me an RX-7 with zero miles on the clock.

    No hybrid crap, no automatic, no radar safety auto braking collision detector.

    • 0 avatar
      bking12762

      ↑ What he says. Rotary engines are absolute hoots to drive even with their foibles. They got in my blood early on and I can accept them for what they are. LOVE the photo at the top!

  • avatar
    RHD

    The rotary engine is part of Mazda’s heritage. They took an innovative design and continuously improved it. Kudos to Mazda for that.

    Has anyone ever made a piston/rotary hybrid? How about a small-displacement 3 or 4 cylinder engine with a supplemental rotary that kicks in when needed for acceleration, and just spins free when cruising? There would be plenty of power when needed or wanted, and high miles per gallon when driven normally.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “Has anyone ever made a piston/rotary hybrid? How about a small-displacement 3 or 4 cylinder engine with a supplemental rotary that kicks in when needed for acceleration, and just spins free when cruising? There would be plenty of power when needed or wanted, and high miles per gallon when driven normally.”

      why add all of that complexity when turbocharging solves the same problem?

    • 0 avatar
      Tosh

      Great idea! VW came closest with a V5…

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    I’m old enough to remember when the turbine engine failed as a replacement for the ICE. It turned out the turbo was better suited as a forced induction add-on to the ICE, not a replacement for it.

    I’m still waiting for a smart engineer to realize the CVT should be a component of a transmission too, and not the transmission itself, maybe to reduce losses in shifting by replacing the clutch.

    Could it be that Wankel’s idea has a better future as another component of the ICE, and not a replacement? How about applying it to the valve train instead of the combustion chamber?

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      Just eliminate the transmission altogether like the Koenigsegg Regera’s direct drive. It’s an ICE with just a hydraulic coupling along with electric motors to assist at lower speeds.

      https://www.carthrottle.com/post/engineering-explained-how-the-koenigsegg-regera-hypercar-drives-without-a-gearbox/

  • avatar
    Erikstrawn

    “Mitsuo Hitomi, Mazda’s head of engine development, has already hyped the rotary’s potential as a gasoline-driven energy supplement for EVs. While it’s not the most efficient design, it can be made dead silent when operated at a constant speed.”

    When operated at a constant speed, most of the rotary’s deficiencies can be designed away. The piston engine is great for dynamic engine speeds, but rotarys and turbines are great at constant speeds.

    That would also take away any aspect of fun from a rotary engine. They are incredible motors with dynamic engine speeds, but that just comes with bad emissions and mileage.

    I think a rotary hybrid would be near soulless compared to an RX-7, but it’s a practical application of rotary technology. I’m interested.

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