Fourtieth Verse, Same as the First: Mazda May Bring Back the Rotary
The return of Mazda’s rotary engine has been something of great debate and speculation ever since the discontinuation of the RX-8. Over and over, the enthusiasts have seized upon some small piece of evidence that Mazda was working on rotaries, risen up, and cried “ROTARY?” and over and over, Mazda has turned from its workbench, shrugged a shoulder, and said, “I dunno, maybe.”
The most official developments that we have gotten out of Mazda on the possibility of a rotary-powered vehicle have been a few patents granted to the company, one submitted in December 2015 describing a “Rotary Piston Engine Mounted on Vehicle” that is flipped 180 degrees from previous rotaries, and two filed in September 2016 describing a smaller electric-drive car using a rotary engine for a generator and a stop/start system for the rotary engine.
However, Mazda itself has never officially confirmed anything, except to say that it is still working on rotaries.
Now, we have official word from Mazda on the future of rotaries, from its own official Zoom Zoom magazine. Here is what it says, from an article on the 50th anniversary of Mazda using the rotary engine.
“The rotary may indeed be on the verge of a comeback. As the primary power source, it may be comparatively thirstier as revs rise and fall and loads vary. But at constant and optimal rpm, such as experienced by a generator, it is ideal. Little wonder that Mazda has experimented with using these delightfully small engines—one-third the size of a conventional gas or diesel engine—as on-board power generators, or ‘range extenders.’ ”
The article then mentions the range-extender concept from 2013 and that “Development continues,” before going on.
“There are other future possibilities. Rotary engines can run superbly on hydrogen, the universe’s most abundant element. It’s also very clean: combusting hydrogen produces only water vapor. Mazda built a number of experimental hydrogen-powered rotaries, including a commercially leased fleet of RX-8s for an environmental study undertaken with the Norwegian government.”
The section then discusses the RX-VISION concept, and finishes by saying, “But from the company that solved the infamous devil’s claw marks and put rotaries on the world automotive map, who would rule anything out?”
Side note: “devil’s claw marks” referred to an early issue where the triangular rotor’s corners would not seal correctly, and so would leave scratches on the inside of the engine casing, ruining seal durability.
While some people have taken this statement with wild enthusiasm, dancing around the altar of spinning triangles in triumph, I have to point out that this statement doesn’t actually tell us anything that we didn’t already know—it just says that Mazda is still working on it, maybe it would be good as a range extender or a hydrogen-powered car, but eh, who knows?
So, once again, the enthusiasts have cried “ROTARY?” to be answered by a knowing smile, a small shrug, and a quiet “I dunno, maybe.”