Mazda to revive rotary engine
Powerplant will extend range in a hybrid vehicle
TOKYO -- Mazda will revive its famed rotary engine next year in a low-volume, for-lease vehicle in Japan, CEO Takashi Yamanouchi says.
This time, Yamanouchi says, the engine won't be in a gas-guzzling RX-8 sports car. Instead, it will be used as an onboard generator, recharging the battery of a hybrid vehicle driven mainly by electricity.
The decision comes as Mazda Motor Corp. struggles to find a use for the technology, which the Japanese carmaker first took to market in its Familia Rotary Coupe/Mazda R100 in 1968.
Mazda killed the rotary engine in June, when the last RX-8 rolled of the assembly line in Japan.
One easy way to reincarnate the rotary: Use it as a small, range-extending engine -- similar to the engine used in the Chevrolet Volt.
"Unfortunately for electric vehicles, they have range and cost problems," Yamanouchi said in an interview last week.
"By making the battery smaller and installing a rotary engine, it will allow a superior range," he said.
The smaller battery would also be cheaper.
The system will debut next year in Japan, Yamanouchi said. He declined to say if Mazda will pursue other markets for the engine, or in what vehicle the engine could be used. Gasoline is also a fuel possibility, but Mazda has experimented with hydrogen-burning rotary engines as well.
The rollout will be in low-volume leased vehicles geared toward assessing the technology's market viability.
Yamanouchi said using rotary engines as range extenders is good because they are smooth and quiet.
Rotary range extenders for electrified cars are one avenue for next-generation drivetrains after Mazda completes the rollout of its new fuel-efficient, direct-injection Skyactiv engines.
"There is a variety of post-Skyactiv technologies being considered," he said. "Range-extender use of rotary is one."
Separately, Mazda is working on a bigger rotary engine for use as the main powerplant in sporty cars, he said.
One hurdle, though, is that the engine needs better low-end torque. Engineers are working to increase that power by widening the diameter of the combustion chamber, he added.
"We are continuing the development of it," Yamanouchi said. "I believe it has great potential in the future."
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