In With the Old, In With the New: Mazda's Rotary Return Might Leave RX-7/RX-8 Fans Disappointed

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Mazda, an automaker that lacks even the mildest of hybrid vehicles, has announced a plan to change its gas-obsessed image. In doing so, the “fun” Japanese brand will return a novel internal combustion engine to the automotive landscape: the rotary engine.

We’ve talked up this possibility ad nauseum in the past, but the plan’s now official. Announced Tuesday, Mazda will add a rotary engine as a range extender for its electrification program, with the first rotary-equipped hybrid production vehicle appearing in 2020.

Traditionally, range extenders appear in the form of an existing engine from the automaker’s car line. Take the 1.5-liter four-cylinder in the Chevrolet Volt, for example. Other automakers, in the interest of packaging, use something smaller. BMW uses a 700cc two-cylinder for its i3 REx.

Mazda feels the flat profile of a rotary engine, coupled with its inherent smoothness, makes it the perfect unobtrusive powerplant for range-extended electric vehicles. Appearing alongside the rotary-equipped “hybrid” in 2020 will be a full-on electric vehicle. The automaker’s last production application for a rotary engine was the RX-8, which disappeared in 2012.

Despite recent attempts to squeeze extra MPGs out of the ICE (the brand’s Skyactiv-X compression-ignition gasoline engine appears next year), Mazda can’t ignore the need for zero-emission vehicles in certain markets. Electrification couldn’t be ignored forever. Nor can range anxiety. In this application, the sole responsibility of Mazda’s new rotary is to recharge the EV’s battery on the fly, with the drive wheels remaining perpetually out of its reach.

“The concept behind the rotary-powered range extender was to leverage the rotary engine’s small size and high power output to make multiple electrification technology solutions possible via a shared packaging layout,” the automaker stated in a release.

By 2030, 95 percent of new Mazda vehicles will employ “some form of electrification,” with the remaining 5 percent made up of pure battery-electric vehicles. The automaker claims its rotary is also compatible with liquefied petroleum gas. A more traditional mild hybrid and plug-in hybrid will appear in 2019 and 2021, respectively, Automotive News reports.

As a smaller automaker, Mazda found itself with meager resources for its electrification program. A strategic partnership with Toyota, supplier Denso, and other Japanese automakers changed that. Through the partnership (EV Common Architecture Spirit Co.), the OEMs plan to collaborate on the development of electrified powertrain components that can be used in any number of vehicle segments.

“We’ve seen drastic changes in automotive-related environmental policies all over the world,” CEO Akira Marumoto said at a Tokyo news conference. “We at Mazda are keeping an eye on what is going on in the industry as we move forward with our strategy.”

For rotary purists, Marumoto again offered a ray of hope. A conventional rotary-powered vehicle is still a possibility, he said, but Mazda is in no position to greenlight its development.

“That is the dream of Mazda,” Marumoto said. “So, my role is to make Mazda prosper so we can release such a model.”

[Image: © 2018 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

More by Steph Willems

Join the conversation
6 of 15 comments
  • Boff Boff on Oct 02, 2018

    "Might" leave rotary fans disappointed??? That's like saying a thermonuclear exchange "might" cause some loss of life. I'm disappointed, but not surprised. But if Mazda releases another rotary-powered sports car (i.e. one where the rotary engine drives the wheels directly and makes a lot of noise doing it), I'll be one of the first in line.

  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Oct 02, 2018

    Tesla does not make rotary engine or any other "range extender". And iMac does not have floppy disk drive and even DVD drive. That's all you need to know.

  • V16 I'm sure you could copy and paste most of the "NO" responses to 1960's Japanese sourced vehicles.
  • Canam23 I believe the Chinese are entirely capable of building good cars, BYD has shown that they are very forward thinking and their battery technology is very good, BUT, I won't buy one because I don't believe in close to slave labor conditions, their animosity to the west, the lack of safety conditions for their workers and also the tremendous amount of pollution their factories produce. It's not an equal playing field and when I buy a car I want it made with as little pollution as possible in decent working conditions and paying a livable wage. I find it curious that people are taking swipes at the UAW in this thread because you can clearly see what horrific labor conditions exist in China, no union to protect them. I also don't own an iphone, I prefer my phones made where there aren't nets around to catch possible suicide jumpers. I am currently living in France, Citroen makes their top model in China, but you see very few. BYD has yet to make an impression here and the French government has recently imposed huge tariffs on Chinese autos. Currently the ones I see the most are the new MG's, mostly electric cars that remind me of early Korean cars, but they are progressing. In fact, the French buy very little Chinese goods, they are very protective of their industries.
  • Jerry Haan I have these same lights, and the light output, color, and coverage is amazing!Be aware, these lights interfere with AM and FM radio reception with the stereoreceiver I have in my garage. When the lights are on, I all the AM stations havelots of static, and there are only a couple of FM stations that are clear. When Iturn the lights off, all the radio stations work fine. I have tried magnetic cores on the power cords of the lights, that did not makeany change. The next thing I am going to try is mounting an antenna in my atticto get them away from the lights. I contacted the company for support, they never responded.
  • Lou_BC Are Hot Wheels cars made in China?
  • DS No for 2 reasons. 1-Every new car pipelines data back to the manufacturer; I don't like it with domestic, Japanese and Euro companies and won't put up with it going to Chinese companies that are part financed by their government. 2-People have already mentioned Vinfast, but there's also the case of Hyundai. Their cars were absolutely miserable for years before they learned enough about the US market