Mazda Motor Corp. is planning to revive its famed rotary engine in 2013, fitting it in a low-volume, for-lease vehicle in Japan, chief executive Takashi Yamanouchi disclosed. Yamanouchi, however, said that the rotary engine would not be installed in a RX-8 sports car, but will be used an onboard generator for recharging the battery of an electricity-driven hybrid vehicle.
The decision to revive the rotary engine comes as the Japanese carmaker struggles to find a use for the technology. Mazda first installed the rotary engine in its Familia Rotary Coupe/Mazda R100 in 1968. Mazda eventually ceased to use the rotary engine in June 2012, when the last RX-8 rolled of the assembly line in Japan.
To revive the rotary engine, Mazda could use it as small, range-extending engine, just like the engine used in the Chevrolet Volt. Yamanouchi remarked that electric vehicles have range and cost problems, which could be solved by making the battery smaller and installing a rotary engine. The smaller battery would also be less expensive.
Yamanouchi said that the new hybrid system will be launched next year in Japan. Yamanouchi said they are considered to use gasoline as fuel for the revived rotary engine, noting that Mazda has experimented with hydrogen-burning rotary engines.
The rollout of the rotary engine will be in low-volume leased vehicles geared toward assessing the technology's market viability, according to Yamanouchi. Mazda’s CEO remarked that using rotary engines as range extenders is good since they are smooth and quiet. Rotary range extenders for electrified cars are one of the options for next-generation drivetrains after Mazda completes the rollout of its new Skyactiv engines.