The rotary engine is officially back. Mazda issued a press release this morning laying out is plans for electric and hybrid vehicles for the coming decade, and the rotary engine is a integral part of those plans, serving as a range extender for gasoline-electric hybrids.
From Mazda’s press release:
Mazda will develop two battery electric vehicles, one powered solely by battery and another that pairs a battery with a newly developed range extender powered by Mazda’s small, lightweight and exceptionally quiet rotary engine. The range extender will recharge the battery when necessary to effectively increase the vehicle’s driving range.
The concept behind the rotary-powered range extender was to leverage the rotary engine’s small size and high power output to make multiple electrification technology solutions possible via a shared packaging layout.
Taking advantage of the rotary engine’s compatibility with gaseous fuels, the rotary-powered range extender is designed to also burn liquefied petroleum gas and provide a source of electricity in emergencies.
It was known to be quite likely that the rotary would return in this form since March 2017. It was reported then that Mazda had filed for patents for just such a hybrid setup. In January 2018 Mazda North America president Masahiro Moro mentioned the company was working on it as well.
Executive statements and patent filings are one thing, as manufacturers often obtain patents without actually bringing the invention to market, but there’s nothing like an actual press release to make things officially official.
The same release states, “By 2030, Mazda expects that internal combustion engines combined with some form of electrification will account for 95 percent of the vehicles it produces and battery electric vehicles will account for 5 percent.”
Mazda didn’t say when the rotary engine will make an official comeback, but 2020 would be ideal as it will mark the 100th anniversary of Mazda as a company. Also remember that as recently as December 2017 Mazda was still testing what is almost certainly a rear-wheel-drive sports car with a rotary engine.
Hopefully, Mazda will bring back the little rotor-shaped badges as well. After all, “RE” badges now have dual meaning.