By on October 2, 2018

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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]

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15 Comments on “In With the Old, In With the New: Mazda’s Rotary Return Might Leave RX-7/RX-8 Fans Disappointed...”


  • avatar

    Stop trying to make rotary happen. It isn’t going to happen.

  • avatar

    I’ll offer a list of things Mazda should do before worrying about this rotary range extender.

    -Improve dealers and service
    -Paint quality/rustproofing
    -NVH
    -More powerful engines
    -V6 (use someone else’s) for CX9 and 6
    -More crossovers
    -Regular hybrids

    • 0 avatar
      forward_look

      The rotary range extender EV fixes all the problems you pointed out except 1,2, and maybe 6.

    • 0 avatar
      pinkslip

      -Improve dealers and service: This is not mutually exclusive to developing new powertrains.

      -Paint quality/rustproofing: This is not mutually exclusive to developing new powertrains.
      -NVH: This is directly addressed with a rotary hybrid system.

      -More powerful engines: This is directly addressed with a rotary hybrid system.

      -V6 (use someone else’s) for CX9 and 6: Every auto maker is moving away from V6s to turbo 4s. Why would Mazda go backward?

      -More crossovers: A rotary hybrid can be used in current and future cross-overs.

      -Regular hybrids: This is supposed to address some of the common problems associated with “regular” hybrids.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    Well, if a rotary engine is going to be used anywhere, this certainly seems like a good application for one. The usually-mild and steady power demands of range extension, along with the fact it’s not supposed to be used that much, should go a long way towards making some of the issues with the rotary be less of a problem.

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      Do modern rotaries still need to run until warm or risk flooding? I thought that was a major problem with the previous Wankels. Wouldn’t that be a problem with the way hybrid engines work in this arrangement?

      I remember reading about a woman who had a Fusion hybrid that had major problems because her job was just outside the range of her cars electric motor and her ICE would turn on at the very end and never get a chance to warm up.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Corey’s totally right.

    As for this application, range extenders are just a bridge between pure ICE and pure EV, with very low volume and limited future.

    BEV (with Tesla leading the way) makes range extenders look like the old tape backups of the 1990s.

    If Mazda really wants to die on the rotary hill, go ahead.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    I stated long ago the only way to save this engine was to use it past the initial start, because of its useless low-end power.
    Adding the electric torque is perfect.
    Thank you, Mazda for listening.

    Now IF they would ONLY add Roseanne Barr as a cranky next door lady to LAST MAN STANDING and you have the number one rated show in TV land

  • avatar
    Boff

    “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.

  • avatar

    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.

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