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Mazda Predicts Return Of The Rotary

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On: Tue, Aug 9, 2011 at 9:07AM | By: Chris Salamone


Mazda Predicts Return Of The Rotary

When Mazda announced the RX-8 would soon disappear from their vehicle lineup, rotary fans took a collective gasp of concern. The rotary engine, currently found in the RX-8, has become something of a defining characteristic of Mazda sports cars and an engine many people will be reluctant to lose permanently. In the face of public outcry, a senior company engineer told TheDetroitBureau.com that Mazda intends to reinstate an updated rotary engine later in this decade.

Patented in 1929 by German inventor Felix Wankel, the rotary still bears his moniker and is perhaps better known as the ‘Wankel’. Rotary engines operate differently from typical gas and diesel powertrains because they rely on a spinning triangular rotor instead of traditional pistons. The downside to rotary engines is also what makes them potent racetrack competitors—low gas mileage caused by high RPM.

Despite concerns over poor gas mileage and early production reliability issues, Mazda has utilized rotary engines in its model line-up for four decades. “Wankels work seamlessly with Mazda’s current brand image “zoom-zoom” because of their typically small size and high performance,” said the company’s global product design chief, Kiyoshi Fujiwara. The trouble will be mating rotary power with reasonable gas mileage.

Although pushed back because of the global economic climate, Mazda officials intend to continue developing a more efficient and powerful version of the rotary. The key to the return of rotary engines will be improving fuel economy. Fujiwara suggests that the next-gen Wankel may rely on the company’s latest fuel maximizing technology called Skyactiv.

Skyactiv is slotted to debut in next-year’s Mazda3 and is designed to deliver hybrid-like gas usage numbers, minus a massive lithium-ion battery pack. In pursuit of a new rotary, Fujiwara believes that a revived Wankel powertrain with Skyactiv could produce mileage that is at least comparable to Mazda’s current non-rotary engines.

When an epic return will actually take place remains a mystery, even to Fujiwara. However, he hesitantly hopes that the future rotary will poke its head out around 2017—an auspicious date indeed. 2017 marks the 50th Anniversary of the engine’s original production run in the Ro 80.

But, the obstacles to a new rotary engine are numerous. Mazda must create a product worthy of an updated rotary and then find the cash to support a re-engineering scheme, both difficult goals. Even so, the company seems confident that a return of the rotary will happen eventually. The Wankel is, after all, a symbol of the Mazda brand and beloved by many.




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