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Tokyo show: Mazda backs rotary, with strings attached

Fulfilment: Mazda’s global boss Masamichi Kogai said the car-maker still wants to “fulfil the possibility” of a new-generation rotary engine, development of which was highlighted in the 2007 Taiki concept.

Mazda is still undecided on how its rotary engine will work with new models

Mazda logo20 Nov 2013

By BARRY PARK in JAPAN

MAZDA’S on-again, off-again love affair with the rotary engine appears to be back on again, although the Japanese car-maker has admitted there are still a lot of obstacles to clear.

Speaking via a translator last night on the eve of the Tokyo motor show, Mazda Motor Corporation president and chief executive Masamichi Kogai insisted that the company remained committed to the Wankel engine, but he refused to set a timeline for its return, or even which vehicle it is likely to appear in.

Asked if the rotary project had been sidelined ahead of an expected appearance at this year’s show, Mr Kogai said the project was still alive.

“My answer is no in terms of killing off (the rotary engine),” he said.

“You know that we’ve already put more than two million rotary engine vehicles on the road. I just like to point out that of all the automotive makers in the world, Mazda is the only one that has engineering and in Japan the facilities to produce a rotary.

“So we want to fulfil the possibility as the past maker of rotary engines, and we want to see what potential the engine will have in the future of our industry.”

Asked directly if Mazda would produce a rotary-engined car where the powerplant was not used as a range-extender for a battery-powered vehicle, Mr Kogai again did not rule out the possibility.

“There is a possibility, I won’t deny it,” he said. “The rotary engine has the benefit originally of being compact, low noise and and also being able to accommodate a variety of fuels.

“It is high-powered and can also run on hydrogen. So because of this flexibility in the kind of fuel that it uses I don’t think we should terminate the future potential that the engine may have.

“And the range-extender you mentioned is one possible application of the engine among the many ways we can use it.”

 center imageFrom top: Mazda Motor Corporation president and chief executive Masamichi Kogai, Mazda Demio EV and Mazda RX-8.

However, Mr Kogai said the engine – in whatever form it appeared – would have to be financially viable.

“You know that as a business it is imperative that we reduce costs,” he said.

“Being a manufacturing guy, I know that the high-cost products will never fly.

“I know that a variety of auto-makers come up with the latest technologies, but ultimately I think unless you have the cost impact, it will not be successful.

“So the working point to do that is how we can develop our production engineering technology to allow for costs.”

Mazda’s rotary engine production disappeared last year with the demise of the RX-8 sportscar, although the company has never ruled out its return.

While a rotary range-extender is still high on Mazda’s agenda, enthusiasts have long anticipated a return of a dedicated Wankel-powered sportscar – and the hallowed RX-7 nameplate – which could be potentially based on the next-generation MX-5.

Mr Kogai’s predecessor, Takashi Yamanouchi, told Australian journalists, including GoAuto, in Sydney last October that the company was continuing with rotary engine development, although if it was used to power the vehicle (rather than simply extend the range), the engineering team would need to further improve fuel economy and low-end torque.

“Right now we are working on a rotary engine with a bigger diameter and bigger displacement of the concentric chamber,” he said.

“The second approach for using the rotary engine is to capitalise on the engine’s ability to run smoothly at a constant speed … by using it as a range-extender in a hybrid vehicle.

“With EVs the cost and the range are the biggest obstacles and in terms of overcoming the range issue, using the rotary is a very effective approach.”

The all-electric version of the Demio/Mazda2 light car was in line to be the first model with a rotary range-extender option, although the new-generation Mazda3 might also step up to the plate considering it is now being used as a showcase of alternative powertrain work being undertaken by the company, appearing in Tokyo this week in both hybrid and CNG form.

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