Mazda Patent Should Help Keep Rotary Hopes Alive

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
mazda patent should help keep rotary hopes alive

Rotary engine fans are an odd bunch, but boy, are they patient. Say “maybe in the next decade” to them and they’ll pass their time doing whatever the hell rotary fans do in their off hours until it’s finally time for a resurrection of the pistonless internal combustion engine.

Over at Mazda, it’s been a long wait. Rumors of a successor to the RX-8, which bit the dust in 2012, have circulated for years, but company brass have remained focused on new crossovers, more efficient Skyactiv engines, and, more recently, electrification. And yet the automaker refuses to close the door on a rotary revival, keeping hope alive for those waiting for a new RX- product.

This latest patent from Mazda should tide them over.

Japan’s Motor Magazine uncovered a patent late last week that suggests Mazda engineers have begun thinking in earnest about a new sports car. While the patent details a “Vehicle Shock Absorption Structure,” in essence a bumper, the vehicle the impact-absorbing apparatus attaches to is worthy of note. It’s a spaceframe-type vehicle, rear-wheel drive in layout, with double wishbones up front and a small engine bay.

The placement of a prominent crossmember suggests a compact engine residing just aft of the front wheels, while heavy use of aluminum, carbon fiber, and plastic throughout the vehicle hints at a featherweight ride tailor-made for tossing. A Mazda source told the magazine that the company has its eye on a specialty platform that wouldn’t appear anywhere else in the lineup.

While the patent is the best evidence yet of an eventual RX-9, the prospect of not-unsubstantial development costs and low production volumes will weigh on the minds of those whose job it is to greenlight such a vehicle. Certainly, greater volumes of popular products could grease the wheels for a rotary resurrection, which is why sports car fans should root for the success of Mazda’s upcoming Alabama-built crossover.

That midsize unit will roll out of the joint Mazda-Toyota plant come 2021, with Mazda hoping to utilize every last bit of its allotted capacity. In the meantime, there’s a tweener CX-30 to tempt buyers and nourish Mazda’s coffers.

As for the actual powerplant destined (or not) for an RX-8 successor, the automaker plans to return rotary power to its model line next year, in the form of a range-extending generator bound for an electrified model. The sports car application of Mazda’s new rotary technology would adopt a turbocharger the EV extender model lacks.

“That is the dream of Mazda,” CEO Akira Marumoto said last year when asked about such a model. “So, my role is to make Mazda prosper so we can release such a model.”

[Image: Mazda]

Join the conversation
2 of 16 comments
  • NeilM NeilM on Sep 23, 2019

    The definitive solution to the rotary's problems seems always just around the corner. Alas, it's like those lines at Disney World, where right around the corner is more line and another corner. The rotary will probably be perfected right around the time that electric vehicles kill the last survivor of the ICE-age.

  • Mcs Mcs on Sep 23, 2019

    Kind of reminds me of Baldwin Locomotive. From Wikipedia: "The early, unsuccessful efforts of Baldwin-Westinghouse in developing diesel-electric locomotion for mainline service led Baldwin in the 1930s to discount the possibility that diesel could replace steam. In 1930 Samuel Vauclain, Chairman of the Board, stated in a speech that advances in steam technology would ensure the dominance of the steam engine until at least 1980. Baldwin's Vice President and Director of Sales stated in December 1937 that "Some time in the future, when all this is reviewed, it will be found that our railroads are no more dieselized than they electrified.""

  • Bobbysirhan Engines are important.
  • Hunter Ah California. They've been praying for water for years, and now that it's here they don't know what to do with it.
  • FreedMike I think this illustrates a bit of Truth About PHEVs: it's hard to see where they "fit." On paper, they make sense because they're the "best of both worlds." Yes, if you commute 20-30 miles a day, you can generally make it on electric power only, and yes, if you're on a 500-mile road trip, you don't have to worry about range. But what percentage of buyers has a 20-mile commute, or takes 500-mile road trips? Meanwhile, PHEVs are more expensive than hybrids, and generally don't offer the performance of a BEV (though the RAV4 PHEV is a first class sleeper). Seems this propulsion type "works" for a fairly narrow slice of buyers, which explains why PHEV sales haven't been all that great. Speaking for my own situation only, assuming I had a place to plug in every night, and wanted something that ran on as little gas as possible, I'd just "go electric" - I'm a speed nut, and when it comes to going fast, EVs are awfully hard to beat. If I was into hypermiling, I'd just go with a hybrid. Of course, your situation might vary, and if a PHEV fits it, then by all means, buy one. But the market failure of PHEVs tells me they don't really fit a lot of buyers' situations. Perhaps that will change as charging infrastructure gets built out, but I just don't see a lot of growth in PHEVs.
  • Kwik_Shift Thank you for this. I always wanted get involved with racing, but nothing happening locally.
  • Arthur Dailey Love the Abe Rothstein tribute suits. Too bad about the car. Seems to have been well loved for most of its life.