Unfortunately, the rotary won’t be coming back in the performance sense, but as a range-extender for a future hybrid.
Mazda has committed to releasing its first electric vehicles in 2020, as part of a ‘Sustainable Zoom-Zoom 2030’ long-term development programme that’s also looking at alternative fuels like hydrogen and microalgae-derived biofuel as a way of reducing CO2 emissions in its vehicles to half of 2010 levels.
The two vehicles set for launch in 2020 will consist of one fully-electric model, with the other to use the rotary engine as a range-extender.
While a rotary makes sense to a company so closely associated with the engine like Mazda, in this instance it was chosen for more practical reasons. Mazda says the rotary’s compact size and high power output make it a good match for an electric motor, as it takes up less room than conventional inline or v-configuration engines.
In development for years, according to Mazda, the hybrid-compatible rotary is also claimed to be much quieter than other hybrids. Adding a rotary to a future EV “makes multiple electrification technology solutions possible via a shared packaging layout”, says Mazda, while the future rotary will be compatible with gaseous fuels and able to burn LPG.
At this stage, it’s unknown whether the rotary will return as an alternative powertrain on an existing Mazda model, or as part of an entirely-new vehicle. What markets the EV and rotary-EV pair will also be offered in are also yet to be revealed.
Mazda’s first rotary-engined car, the Cosmo, debuted in 1967, setting off a chain of similarly-powered models - including the popular RX-3 and long-selling RX-7 - that endured up to the RX-8. When that model went out of production in 2012, so did the rotary.