Mazda gives the rotary another spin

Mazda's rotary-powered Taiki concept. Photo / Supplied
Mazda's rotary-powered Taiki concept. Photo / Supplied

The rotary is dead ... long live the rotary?

When Mazda announced last year that the rotary engine was no longer, there were people in Hamilton who wore black armbands for months.

It is, after all, one of the world's Wankel capitals.

On the sidelines of the recent Paris motor show, Mazda's head Takashi Yamanouchi told Driven that the engine was by no means gone - and reiterated this during the week at the Australia International motor show in Sydney

Yamanouchi confirmed that the company is heavily researching the engine's potential as a range extender for electric cars - essentially a petrol engine that is used to charge batteries, and a system that has been proven extremely effective on vehicles like the Holden Volt.

"Rotary engines have two main problems," explained Yamanouchi, "they don't have a lot of torque and they're not very economical.

"But at constant revolutions per minute - say 2000 - rotary engines don't use a lot of fuel."

This is where the first crop of resurrected rotaries could possibly surface - particularly with Mazda testing its little Mazda2 (right) as an electric vehicle in Japan with a 346-Volt, 20kWh lithium-ion battery with a maximum 200km range.

Yamanouchi says other companies have expressed interest in licensing parts of the Mazda's SkyActiv range of vehicle efficiency technologies, and agrees that range extending rotaries fit squarely into the SkyActiv product ethos.

A hybrid version of the Mazda2 - or Demio, as it is badged in Japan - could be a big seller as both the small and alternative fuel markets grow.

But Yamanouchi also has aspirations to use the rotary engine in its more traditional sense - driving a car's wheels rather than pumping charge into a battery.

"To get enough torque, it is possible to build a rotary with more displacement," he said.

"An engine with bigger rotors and a larger concentric chamber can make enough torque, and will not have to work very hard - this means it will be more economical. We are working on this."

Yamanouchi is quick to point out that the potential for the rotary as a stand-alone engine is currently more of a research and engineering exercise than a ready-to-roll plan, where range-extending technology is just around the corner.

"From next year we will also market in Japan an EV with a range extender with a rotary engine incorporated," Yamanouchi told GoAuto at the Australia International motor show, although he would not be drawn on which vehicle would be rotary hybridised.

"It's a secret - you will have to just wait and see."

Mazda showcased an experimental 16X Renesis 2 rotary engine in the Taiki concept it unveiled at the 2007 Tokyo motor show as part of a celebration of its 40 years working with rotaries.

A Mazda veteran of 45 years, Yamanouchi has long championed the rotary engine, declaring on record that the rotary will always have a future as long as he works for the company.

- NZ Herald

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