Mazda rotary engine may find new life in self-driving Toyota e-Palette project


2017 Mazda CX-5 First Drive

2017 Mazda CX-5 First Drive

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Mazda's famed rotary engine may spin once again. The automaker confirmed the development of a range-extending rotary engine with Toyota for use in a shared future project.

Toyota revealed the e-Palette concept on Monday at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The vehicle, a battery-electric and self-driving prototype, previews one possibility for Toyota to partner with other companies to develop purpose-built vehicles and mobility solutions.

Toyota e-Palette self-driving electric mobility concept

Toyota e-Palette self-driving electric mobility concept

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In a statement, Toyota said its "e-Palette alliance" includes partnerships with Uber, Amazon, and Pizza Hut. Toyota specifically named Mazda as a technology partner.

Jacob Brown, spokesman for Mazda North America, said Mazda's engineering team will share the powertrain's developments with Toyota, including a range-extending rotary engine.

"Mazda will provide technical information on a (rotary engine) range extender to be used in the vehicle being developed. We will reveal more details at an appropriate time," Brown said. 

Toyota declined to comment for this story.

Rotary engines are compact and much quieter in operation than other engines, which makes them an attractive solution as a range extender for the amount of power they provide.

Mazda rotary engine

Mazda rotary engine

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With a range extender, the company could use a smaller and less-expensive battery in vehicles sooner with a rotary-engine range extender on board.

The e-Palette concept shown at CES 2018 does not feature an internal-combustion engine, but Brown said Mazda's involvement with Toyota may include a rotary-engine range extender as a specific part of the e-Palette concept.

Mazda and Toyota jointly announced last August that they will partner to develop, among other things, electrified vehicles for both brands.

The next month, they announced a three-way partnership with Japanese supplier Denso specifically to develop electric-vehicle components.

The pair of carmakers will build a joint assembly plant in the U.S.; Mazda will use it to add capacity for North American production of crossover utility vehicles.

Mazda RX-Vision concept, 2015 Tokyo Motor Show

Mazda RX-Vision concept, 2015 Tokyo Motor Show

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Mazda has continuously hinted the rotary engine may find new life as a range-extending engine in a future electrified vehicle.

Last October, the company's head powertrain developer, Mitsuo Hitomi, said he "thinks" a rotary engine will "probably" be used in the near future.

The company celebrated 50 years of rotary-engine-powered cars in May. Mazda has insisted a rotary-powered sports car is desirable, though it likely won't arrive until after 2020.

Mazda's future product plans include a battery-electric and mild-hybrid vehicle for 2019, presumably developed alongside Toyota.

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