Many car enthusiasts may recall that Mazda made its name around a technology known as the Wankel Rotary Engine. First seen in 1967 in the Cosmo Sport/Mazda S110, as well as on legendary sports cars like the RX-7, the engine also gave Mazda the distinction of winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in 1991. We say distinction because it is the only Japanese brand to do so, using the 787B racecar.
While the rotary lived on to do duty in the RX-8 of the 2000s, Mazda eventually killed the engine and the model in 2012 due to dwindling sales. Since then, rumors of its resurrection have been floating around yet nothing has been confirmed. Up until now, that is.
A report by Automotive News reveals that the Hiroshima-based carmaker will be bringing back the beloved rotary mill. However, it won’t be driving the wheels off a high-performance sports car. Instead, Mazda engineers say that its new rotary will act as a range extender for an upcoming electric vehicle that could see daylight by 2019.
The technology’s high power output, compact size, and low vibration characteristics make it an ideal supplementary power source for an electric vehicle, Mazda notes. It can be used in markets that would want the clean emissions of an EV yet still need a bit more driving range to cover longer distances. These include markets like the United States.
This is why Mazda is planning to offer the said EV in two trim levels: pure EV and one with a range extender. This means it could sell the vehicle in more markets around the world.
Yet car nuts need not despair that their beloved rotary will only be relegated to back-up duty. Mazda also said it is working on a larger version of the engine. This one may eventually find its way to a new high-performance sports car. But while the technology is there, being perfected as this piece is being written, Mazda says that the biggest hurdle are the bean counters. Mazda bosses question the business viability of such a car.
Yet if the current trend towards fun-to-drive sports cars continues in markets like Japan, then Mazda may just be missing out on the opportunity to bring its brand of Zoom-zoom back on the road. The kind that make cars like the RX-7 legendary even up to today.