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 than that of 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.