Mazda has officially confirmed that it will return the rotary engine to production, although it won’t be inside a svelte successor to the RX-7, but rather as the range-extender motor for an electric vehicle. Ok, so it’s not quite the role we’d been hoping for to mark the return of the Wankel, but there could be some good in this development. It means Mazda is invested in new rotary technology.
Yes, this rotary technology is focused on efficiency, because the role of a range extender is not to provide bucket loads of power but rather to quietly and smoothly get on with maintaining charge in electric batteries. But it at least means rotaries are back on the drawing board, which should help the case of insiders who are keen to produce a new rotary-engined sports car.
Mazda last teased the idea of such a product with its RX-Vision concept (pictured top) of 2015, a stunning two-door coupé that came with claims of significantly better fuel economy, lower emissions and vastly improved reliability compared to the firm’s last rotary motor, which was featured in the RX-8. At the time CEO Masamichi Kogai pledged: “One day rotary will make a comeback” as the main power source, so we can still live in hope.
Until then, however, it’ll live in an electric car, the first of which is expected on roads next year and will probably take the form of a crossover – because industry trends. Mazda says that its rotary range extender won’t just be useful to keep the EV’s batteries topped up, but that it can also be used as a reliable power source in times of energy cut outs, such as during Japan’s frequent earthquakes. Which is very cool.
So who’d have thought it? An engine design made famous for screaming the Mazda 787B to a Le Mans victory, that’s renowned as much for its thirst for oil as its revvy nature, could not only help to increase the uptake of electric cars but, quite possibly, also keep the essentials going in a house with no power. That’s quite some going.