While the Wankel rotary engine, Mazda’s power plant of choice for many years, has a fantastic power to weight ratio, it isn’t exactly what you’d call a green engine.
As a consequence, since the Mazda RX-8 ended its production in June this year, you won’t find a rotary engine powering any new Mazda on sale in the U.S. today.
That doesn’t mean the Wankel engine is dead, however.
Speaking at this week’s Moscow Motor Show, Mazda president and CEO Takashi Yamanouchi confirmed to Autocar that Mazda was preparing to give the rotary engine a new lease of life: in a range-extended electric car.
Back in June, we told you that the the Japanese automaker was considering combining a hydrogen-burning rotary engine with an electric drivetrain to produce a range-extended electric-hydrogen plug-in hybrid.
That might sound far-fetched, but Mazda has been leasing a rotary hydrogen hybrid to customers in Japan since 2009, the Mazda Premacy Hydrogen RE Hybrid.
“We are still learning,” Takashi told Autocar. “The rotary has a very good dynamic performance, but if you accelerate and brake a lot there are efficiency disadvantages. The range extender overcomes that. We can keep it spinning at its most efficient 2000 rpm while also taking advantage of its size.”
Mazda Premacy Hydrogen RE Hybrid
Mazda Premacy Hydrogen RE HybridEnlarge Photo
Rotary engines may have come full circle since hitting their peak in the early 1970s, but as Audi recently noted, building range-extended electric cars with rotary engines might not be cheap.
Citing limited-run production costs and a predicted price tag just under $50,000 Audi cancelled its plans to produce the A1 e-tron, a range-extended, rotary-engined electric car initially unveiled at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show.
Unlike Mazda however, Audi has very limited experience with rotary engines.
Mazda, by Takashi’s own admission, is still in love with the compact engine.
“When I joined the company in 1967, it was the rotary engine that motivated my decision,” he admitted. “We continue to explore ways to improve the fuel efficiency and capabilities of the rotary engine so it can be the primary power source of a car again.”
Before you get too excited however, it’s worth noting that the likelihood of Mazda bringing a limited-run production extended range car to the U.S. is for now, unlikely.