By on September 23, 2019

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]

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16 Comments on “Mazda Patent Should Help Keep Rotary Hopes Alive...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “placement of a prominent crossmember suggests a compact engine residing just aft of the front wheels”

    This makes me think of those detailed artists’ renditions of a new dinosaur, based upon the discovery of a single bone.

    As for the rotary – some battles can’t be won no matter how many times you try to take the hill. And all that remains afterward is carnage.

  • avatar

    Occam’s Razor:
    The explanation with the fewest assumptions is most likely correct.

    Mazda and Toyota are already collaborating on a RWD sports car powered by an inline 6.

  • avatar

    should I get excited about a car I will not be looking to buy?

  • avatar

    Whatever. At this point I think you could count the number of people who give a damn without taking off your socks.

    • 0 avatar

      The rotary community (and I’m a recovering rotard) is abuzz.

      • 0 avatar

        The first 3 cars I owned were all rotary Mazdas and I was a Mazda salesman right out of high school around the time the original RX-7 came out.

        The only way I see them building another RX is through electrification, possibly a hybrid but even that’s unlikely. And if earlier rumours are true and it’s going to be used as a range extender then I’m really not interested.

        What honestly baffles me is why Mazda never saw fit to offer a rotary powered Miata. I think that would be the perfect home.

  • avatar

    Mazda has a patent on engines that will exist some time in the future

  • avatar

    I just don’t see how Mazda, a small and capital-limited company, can possibly refine the rotary enough to keep up with all of the developments in piston ICEs by lots of bigger manufacturers over the past decade and a half.

    And in any event major capital investment in ICE tech seems like a losing long-term bet at this point. If battery prices get to about half of what they are now, which is looking likely in the next 5 years, then the economics of medium-range EVs will get really hard to beat.

    • 0 avatar

      My (not an engineer) impression was that when used as a generator, and not as a variable rate driving engine, rotary engines’ disadvantages are potentially minimized. Generators: 1) can run at a constant RPM, 2) can be controlled to run in maintenance-friendly temperatures or ranges if not the car’s sole means of power. If they could design it with an electric motor to take advantage of the majority of the time, and keep the overall ICE packaging penalty and weight way down, it seems like it has some potential. I would certainly be interested in a lightweight, mostly electric sportscar with a theoretically unlimited gas range…

      • 0 avatar

        Use as an onboard generator would probably make the most sense, as pointed out by NG5. This power plant could be engineered for max efficiency and minimal seal wear characteristics if designed for use in a small rpm band. I still believe that Toyota’s investment in Mazda was made to gain the use of rotary engine technology in this application.

    • 0 avatar

      @dal20402: The batteries aren’t just getting cheaper, they’re getting lighter too. That means a lighter vehicle and more range for a given battery capacity. So, 300+ mile range could be done with a smaller battery than is needed now, further lightening the car, lowering the costs, and effectively decreasing the time for a full charge.

  • avatar

    When you consider the technology we have available over the last several years or so, if they haven’t been able to overcome the rotary’s problems by now, perhaps….never?

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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.””

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