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LA show: Mazda rotary sportscar still ‘a dream’

Back to the future: The 2015 RX-Vision concept previewed Mazda’s design direction, but it started a lot of speculation about a future rotary sportscar.

Development has not started on rotary sportscar but tech is improving: Mazda

Mazda logo30 Nov 2018

By TIM NICHOLSON in LOS ANGELES

MAZDA is yet to start development work for a future production rotary sportscar that would continue the legacy of its iconic RX-7 and RX-8 performance models, despite consistent development of its rotary powertrain technology.
 
As reported by GoAuto, the Japanese car-maker has confirmed it will use rotary engine tech for a future range-extender powertrain, but that is slated for use in a future electrified passenger car or SUV, not a production sportscar.
 
Mazda is synonymous with rotary power, and rumours have circulated for years that the company was planning a return to the mid-size rear-drive sportscar segment.
 
This hit fever pitch in 2015 when Mazda uncovered the striking RX-Vision concept at the Tokyo motor show, but many Mazda executives have played down the chances of a return of an RX due to the development cost and low volume of such a model.
 
Mazda Motor Corporation (MMC) managing executive officer in charge of powertrain development, vehicle development, product planning and cost innovation Ichiro Hirose said any vehicle program had to have business case that stacked up.
 
“Of course the vehicle program itself must be make the viable business case,” he told Australian journalists at the Los Angeles motor show this week. “We have to have the starting funding to develop this model in the first place. Without that, we can’t even begin the work to develop this model anyway.”
 
When asked if work had even started on a production rotary sportscar, Mr Hirose said: “In terms of developing as a product, we still haven’t started anything yet.”
 
He said that Mazda’s relatively small size made it difficult to justify the cost of developing a rotary sportscar.
 
“The biggest issue is making the business case. So I don’t think it is impossible to make this kind of rotary sportscar if many customers purchase Mazda vehicles, then we can get enough funding to develop this vehicle.”
 
Mr Hirose said the company was still hopeful that it can eventually develop a new halo sportscar and added that development of the engine tech was ongoing.
 
“Rotary sportscar is still our dream,” he said. “Having said that, we already understand the problems of the rotary engines. Understanding the problems means we can come up with the solutions with ways to overcome those issues. We still research and develop the technologies to do that.”
 
Mazda’s previous rotary engines were inefficient, and Mr Hirose acknowledged that given the ever-tightening global emissions regulations, saying one of the challenges with a new rotary was to improve that.
 
MMC president and CEO Akira Marumoto expressed his desire for a production rotary sportscar, but pointed to the RX-Vision as a concept only.
 
“RX-Vision is a vision model for design development, so we didn’t assume mass production or commercialisation,” he said. “But I want to have one.
 
“One day we want to build the car.”
 
When asked if Mazda would consider partnering with another manufacturer to reduce development and production costs – as it has done with the MX-5 and Fiat’s 124 Spider – Mr Marumoto was unconvinced.
 
“But if we build it for market, it should be a brand icon. So sharing with a partner, it is very hypothetical question. So we haven’t thought about it seriously.”
 
When asked if he was committed to producing a pure rotary engine without the range extender, he said: “I will not commit. But that is a dream for all Mazda executives and employees. … Nothing has been decided.”
 
MMC managing executive officer and head of design and brand style Ikuo Maeda joked that he wanted to see a production rotary sportscar before he died.
 
The RX-7 ran for three generations from 1978 to 2002, before being replaced by the RX-8 that was produced from 2003 to 2012.

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