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Mazda plotting rotary coupe

Still kicking: Mazda's iconic rotary engine looks set to power the brand's eventual replacement for the RX-8.

Rotary engine to live on under the bonnet of a new Mazda coupe to replace RX-8

30 Nov 2011


MAZDA’S trademark rotary engine will not be relegated to being a mere range-extending power generator for a future eco-car from Mazda, but appears set to power an all-new rotary sports coupe to replace the RX-8.

The dramatic change in fortune for the future of Mazda’s unique Wankel engine, the current version of which will be phased out along with the RX-8 coupe next year, was outlined to GoAuto at a pre-Tokyo motor show function last night.

Mazda Motor Corporation chief executive Takashi Yamanouchi has been part of Mazda about as long as the rotary engine, which debuted in the Familia Rotary Coupe/Mazda R100 in 1968, and has vowed the company will continue development of the pistonless engine as long as he remained CEO.

Mazda has openly stated it is developing a larger-capacity new-generation rotary based on its ground-breaking new SkyActiv powertrain technology, and continues to trial hydrogen-fuelled RX-8 vehicles in Norway, where the renewable fuel is abundant.

However, recent reports have led to speculation that difficulties in meeting future emissions targets could see the rotary engine confined to duty in an extended-range plug-in electric vehicle that uses a combustion engine to recharge its battery like GM’s Volt, in the same way Audi has employed the Wankel engine in one of its e-tron concepts.

 center imageLeft: Mazda Motor Corporation chief executive Takashi Yamanouchi. Below: Premacy HRE hybrid and current MX-5.

“The rotary engine is a symbol for those of us at Mazda,” said Mr Yamanouchi recently. “I am hoping to revive it together with our new eco technology.” Mazda used its current rotary engine in the Japan-only Premacy HRE hydrogen-hybrid lease car and remains committed to releasing its first petrol-electric production hybrid – likely to be based on the Mazda3 – to government and business lease customers in Japan during 2013, but that model will incorporate Toyota’s parallel Hybrid Synergy Drive system from the Prius.

When asked whether Mazda’s new rotary engine will be restricted to use solely as a range-extender, director of research and development Hirotaka Kanazawa told GoAuto: “No. Of course we haven’t given up.

“We are exploring its potential as a range-extender as well as hydrogen and our rotary engineers are also working on SkyActiv rotary.

“Don’t forget hydrogen rotary. The strength of rotary is compact size, light weight, high power and less vibration, so capitalising on these strengths rotary engine will match very well with stylish and lightweight car.” When asked if that vehicle could be a coupe to rival the likes of Toyota’s upcoming 86 and Subaru’s version, the BRZ, Mr Kanazawa said: “Hmmm. I welcome that competitors will enter that segment and give stimulus to that segment to invigorate it.

“We think we are good in that area, so if that segment or market grows then it will help us to enter into that segment.

“We haven’t reached the planning phase yet. Our first priority is to introduce the next MX-5 as soon as possible.”

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