Mazda’s engineering team deserves credit for continuing to develop the rotary engine even as increasing environmental regulations make a return more difficult. The company now confirms yet again that the work is still underway, but the researchers are still searching for a breakthrough that would make the Wankel viable in the modern world.
Kiyoshi Fujiwara, Mazda’s research and development boss, told CarAdvice that the goal is to put the gorgeous RX-Vision coupe concept into production someday, and it would have a rotary powerplant. This dream is still a long way from becoming a reality.
“The issue is probably fuel economy and exhaust emissions, but from our viewpoint, the issue is the fundamental demerit, the structure issues of the rotary engine itself, we consider developing completely new technologies for breaking through this fundamental constructive issues itself,” Fujiwara told CarAdvice.
The engineering team’s goal of not using electrification was a way to boost the Wankel’s torque and emissions weaknesses is making the job even harder. According to Fujiwara, the group wants the new powerplant for a lightweight sports car, and there’s a concern that the batteries would add too much additional weight. He admits that technological improvements like smaller batteries might make a hybrid rotary viable eventually, but now isn’t the time. At the moment, turbocharging is probably the way forward, Fujiwara indicates.
Mazda last sold a rotary engine in the RX-8, which ended production in 2012. Since then, a trickle of rumors continued to give fans hope that a new one might arrive. The release of the RX-Vision concept signaled a possible step forward with the plan, and a patent earlier this year suggested a new powerplant, too. The designers rotated the Wankel 180 degrees from its normal position and fitted a top-mounted turbocharger. Moving the fuel injectors closer to the combustion chamber also allegedly improved efficiency.
“All of the engineers and designers [at Mazda] love rotary engines, love sports car,” Fujiwara told CarAdvice. However, he said the company’s accountants aren’t too keen on the resources going into the niche products. We hope the pro-Wankel faction can hold the bean counters at bay until a new model with the novel powerplant can hit the road.