The Mazda rotary will return in 2022 as a range extender

Mazda’s dream of reviving the rotary engine is finally coming true. In a Japanese presentation about the hybrid MX-30, CEO Akira Marumoto announced that Mazda will introduce “multi-electrification technology using a rotary engine” in the first half of 2022. While not the performance application some were hoping for, the rotary has always symbolized innovation at Mazda. This is certainly an innovative use of the rotary engine and a laudable successor to Mazda’s heritage.

The announcement comes at the 8:40 mark in this official video released by Mazda. It’s pretty rare for a CEO to give an exact timeline so far out, especially in a year when unseen forces have upended so much of the industry, but there it is. We know, it’s not an RX-9 or whatever. But, we think it’s still a worthy pursuit for Mazda, and here’s why.

Let’s be honest, the writing is on the wall for the internal combustion engine. Every automaker is rapidly switching to some sort of electrified mobility. Mazda’s underlying drive with the rotary was always about finding a better alternative to the established conventions, and as a generator, the rotary has some unique advantages.

Back when it was first realized, the rotary was supposed to be a better engine than the reciprocating piston engine due to its smoothness, having fewer moving parts, and mechanical elegance. In sports and racing cars, it was smaller and lighter and as a result could be mounted lower and midship, while the smooth and higher revving nature made it more fun to drive.

While not a rotary, the Miller Cycle engine in the Mazda Millenia was another example of the innovative ethos. It was an alternative to the conventional thermodynamic cycle and promised higher efficiency. Mazda didn’t engineer all these just for the sake of being different. They genuinely look for new and innovative ways to make their products stand out and are willing to conquer the associated engineering challenges for it.

However, in recent years Mazda has struggled to bring some of their cutting edge technologies to the US market. There was a period, in the early to mid 2010s, when Mazda led the pack in efficiency and cleanliness, on top of superior driving dynamics. The first Skyactiv engine brought to the US returned up to 40 mpg and was PZEV. Since then, their US range has started to lag the competition in efficiency.

This is partially due to Mazda’s deepened commitment to being a sporting and premium brand and partially due to regulations. They have prioritized cleaner technology elsewhere in the world, with the revolutionary Skyactiv-X being the most prominent example. Other examples include the i-ELOOP regenerative braking system and engine start-stop. They’ve had the latter for a many years now but never brought it to the US (regulatory differences in other parts of the world favor this technology). To be clear, Mazda has made plenty of advancements in cleaner tech, it’s just that they’ve de-prioritized it for the US market in recent years.

With the RERE (rotary engine range extender), the gas engine and generator combo should be simpler compared to conventional hybrids. The range extender should be very small and light. The system could also be smoother that in the Prius. Since it can capitalize on the rotary’s forte of continuously operating at optimal speed for efficiency, it could potentially deliver excellent efficiency.

The RERE will likely appear in the 2022 Mazda MX-30 first, the one with the center console made of cork to reference 100 years of company history. Will it come stateside? It certainly would be a very unique and peerless product in the market, having green credentials, Mazda’s driving dynamics, and a rotary connection. In the presentation, Marumoto also noted that Mazda will gradually expand the so-called “M Hybrid” technology to other models. Given the inevitability of EVs, if Mazda can preserve a bit of the rotary and their heritage while setting them apart from the competition, the project will be very much worthy of this storied marque.

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11 Responses to The Mazda rotary will return in 2022 as a range extender

  1. Damian said:

    What a cop out. Insult to the Japanese Engineers that succeeded long after all the German ones failed. If only they would fund research to improve the efficiency of the rotary, considering how to not let gases escape past the spark plug, reduce the frictional losses and heat dissipation thru less surface area of the combustion chamber…
    Real disappointment for me. Bit like seeing the BMW M badge on an SUV. Ultimate shopping machine.

    • Mako said:

      The combustion engine is dead. The engineers at any auto company know it’s just a matter of time. At least this way they get to honor that heritage even a little bit. Whether you like it or not those “shopping machines” are more important to a company than any sports car will ever be.

      • Damian said:

        The essence behind the idea that the ice engine is dead is that the world/earth cannot take the emissions etc. the reality is that those shopping machines are the result of all the excessive consumption that the first world is responsible for. They are big, bigger than they need to be.They stand for what is bad consumption wise, and whether those SUV’s are electric or ice, result in a lot more emissions than any small amount of rotary cars. The rotary engine development may result in future improvements to other ice engines, which will always be around. As long ppl consume, there will tankers and bulk carriers going around the oceans so wealthy progressives can consume needless stuff, like SUV’s and rotary engines cars. There face of the same coin.

      • Bob said:

        Indeed. I look forward to a future filled with a trillion batteries past their service life in landfills and the billion tons of fossil fuels used to recycle the plastics, nickel, lead and acids.
        Awesome vision.

    • Shaiyan Hossain said:

      theres no real benefit to using a rotary in a performance car anymore, especially given their inherent flaws and that people aren’t buying cars anymore instead flocking to crossovers
      Having a small rotary for a range extender can greatly increase range and make owning an EV appealing (think of it as a better BMW i3)

      • Damian said:

        The Sarich orbital engine resulted in injection technology used by almost all other engine manufacturers. The original orbital engine was a rotary, which then resulted in a 2 stroke design, which is licensed out for outboards and other things. Sarich got too rich and decided to invest in property. The Aussie way.

    • Alan said:

      HIGH MINDED PURIST EVERYONE

  2. j_c said:

    Looks like a single rotor that’s thinner than a 13B’s.

    Hopefully having a rotary in some production form will mean they’ll go back to racing with it.

  3. Iwakuni91 said:

    Do I like it? No, but the automotive world would be a poorer place without this car company. You know, a car company that actually likes cars. And driving. And handling. And elegance. And engineering. And value.

    You know, a car company.

  4. speedie said:

    I applaud Mazda for sticking with the rotary. The fact that they actually found a useful application for the rotary is a “bow” to all those engineers who spent decades trying to perfect its design. By using it in this manner they at least keep the engineering department active in seeking possible improvements. That said, there was never a great case to be made for using the rotary even when Mazda introduced it back in the early seventies. Mazda has spent considerable engineering effort to overcome the inherent problems of its design. If there were ways to significantly improve the emissions, fuel economy and longevity of the design they would have done it. Time and technology have moved on from the concept of the rotary which is not to say that we as enthusiasts should forget about it. I love my RX-8 and smile every time I push the throttle, feel the smoothness, and hear the turbine like rotary whine as it zooms towards 9,000 rpm. Thank you Mazda

  5. daniel said:

    “A nuclear bomb ???
    mehhh … we are MAZDA, we rose from the ashes. Is a pandemic going to defeat us?”

    I imagine that is the attitude of the President, never give up. I celebrate the return of the rotary engine, overcoming all prejudices and “death sentences”.

    It is part of the spirit of MAZDA. Maybe Akio Toyoda will try to have that.

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