Tokyo Motor Show: Mazda MX-30 subtly references history, may signal return of rotary engine

Mazda just unveiled the MX-30 at the 46th Tokyo Motor Show. A battery electric cross over coupe, the newest member of the MX family will be Mazda’s first production electric car. It also comes with a surprise call-out to the Hiroshima company’s heritage, and may be the car that brings back the rotary engine.

The most noticeable are the “freestyle doors,” a term used on the RX-8 for its rear-hinged apertures. There had long been a cadre of engineers at Mazda who wanted to solve the problem of how to make a four-door sports car, and this arrangement was their answer. They debuted on the RX-Evolv concept car at the 1999 Tokyo Motor Show, and continue to use this very 90s-sounding designation.

Another heritage cue can be found inside. Specifically, it’s located on the center console, which is partially covered in cork. Though Mazda says the MX-30 employs many sustainable materials in its construction, the soft bark lies at the center of Mazda’s origin story. In fact, Mazda calls it Heritage Cork.

What’s known as Mazda today was originally founded in Hiroshima in 1920 as Toyo Cork Kogyo (literally, Eastern Cork Industries). The Chinese cork oak tree was abundant in the region, and the company took up manufacturing of cork boards. Seven years later the word “cork” was removed from the name as Toyo Kogyo expanded into the precision manufacturing of drills, machine tools and, eventually, three-wheeled motorcycle trucks.

When Toyo Kogyo moved completely away from the cork business, it transferred those operations to the Uchiyama Cork Stopper Factory (now known as Uchiyama Manufacturing Corp.) in neighboring Okayama Prefecture. Toyo Kogyo (and later Mazda) never ceased its relationship with Uchiyama, with the latter supplying engine gaskets and, now, trim pieces for the MX-30.

Speaking of which, the MX name has traditionally been used on Mazda’s sporty offerings, like the MX-3, MX-6 coupe and, of course, the MX-5 Miata. Going by the MX-30 name, we are to infer that the car will be similarly sized to the upcoming CX-30, a replacement for the CX-3. Some might balk at the use of the MX name on a crossover, but as crossovers go, Mazda’s are among the best-handling ones on the market. Whether it’s sacrilege or apropos will have to wait until we drive the vehicle ourselves.

Last but not least, the MX-30 is very likely a harbinger of the rotary engine’s return at Mazda. We reported last year (and more recently) on Mazda’s announcement of a single-rotor engine as a range extender for upcoming electrified cars — an RERE, so to speak. Mazda continues to socialize that concept in both its 2019 corporate sustainability report (which clearly features the silhouette of an MX-30 with a rotary engine inside) as well as its Tokyo Motor Show presentation of the MX-30.

To be clear, the car shown at the Tokyo Motor Show has no range extender. The MX-30 which debuted is a battery electric vehicle with a 200km range specifically for the European market. Mazda made a point to say the MX-30’s battery is the “right size,” literally for the reasons of weight, driving dynamics, and purchase price. But when the MX-30 — and our sources have said it will — reaches the US market, it will almost certainly have (and need) a longer range to suit American driving habits.

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7 Responses to Tokyo Motor Show: Mazda MX-30 subtly references history, may signal return of rotary engine

  1. BlitzPig said:

    Meh.

    Another boring SUV transport pod, for pod people.

  2. Negishi no Keibajo said:

    It’s. not the car for me, but I’m stil surprised that Mazda can come up with “something new”. All the brands make fine cars, but it’s Mazda that keeps me interested. It may be a small thing, but the nod to it’s heritage (cork) is a real important touch to me. It tells me; we’ve been around and we pay attention to details. Heritage means more to me than the new cup holder.

  3. Jake said:

    People will criticize this, because crossover, but given the fact that crossovers will undoubtedly be the future of cars, we may as well have interesting ones. A plug-in hybrid, rotary crossover with RX-8 doors that features Mazda handling and looks like nothing else is certainly about as interesting as crossovers come. I mean, this is more interesting than even most non-crossovers. People need to open their minds a little bit, I think.

    • Dankan said:

      I don’t know that crossovers will be the future. I think that the idea of them being very fashionable right now with the car-buying set is true, but it’s more of a fashion than anything more. And at the point they seem uncool, people won’t be able to get out of their crossovers fast enough, just like they did with station wagons and minivans. Traditional 3-box sedans for eternity!

      • LTDScott said:

        Lots of auto manufacturers, most notably Ford, are betting heavily that you’re wrong.

        I really don’t see crossovers going away. Their main downside was fuel economy compared to standard cars, but that’s becoming less and less of an issue every year. Once people get used to the elevated driving position, passenger & cargo room, and versatility that a crossover offer, it’s pretty hard for them to go back.

  4. Speedie said:

    Crossovers are a mainstay of the car market. They offer the utility that was once provided by station wagons and later the Mini Van in a more comfortable and versatile form. I applaud Mazda for doing something different with the MX-30.

  5. Alan said:

    Looks production-ready. Love the elegant, slightly odd, almost French-esque styling. If they build it with Wankel range extender I will buy one for a family car, and many other enthusiasts likely will as well.

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