Five years after “killing” its famous Wankel rotary engine, Mazda is making plans to bring a rotary-powered concept to the Tokyo Motor Show next month.
Actually, Mazda’s production of the rotary may have ended in 2012, the Japanese automaker has kicked around several in-house concepts of the powerplant, the latest being the RX- Vision. However, a top Mazda official told Auto Express that it plans to rollout another rotary concept in October.
“With the Tokyo Motor Show, we will be introducing a new design concept. You can think of it as an evolution of theme of the RX-Vision,” said Matsuhiro Tanaka, Mazda’s vice president of research and development.
The magazine claims that much of the legwork for this new concept was completed with the RX-Vision concept. This comes as strong forces within Mazda believe in the rotary engine and continue to push for its return. Auto Express predicts a production model will be ready for 2020.
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Beyond that, no real details are available, including whether or not the new model will be some form of a rotary hybrid, which may be the best application for the rotary and open the door for other Mazda models.
The rotary would be a nice complement to an electric powerplant or powerplants, depending upon the ultimate set up. The electric motors provide the low-torque power while the rotary would slide in for the electric motors at the high-end of the power band.
Another advantage to a hybrid set up is that the electric half helps offset the less-than-stellar fuel efficiency of the rotary engine. It would also more than likely offset any emissions issues stemming from the rotary engine.
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Earlier this year, several senior Mazda sources revealed that the Wankel will make its return under the hood of the Japanese automaker’s first battery-electric vehicle. If that has you scratching your head, the explanation is simple: the rotary will serve as a range-extender for the EV Mazda is expected to launch sometime in 2019.
It’s the same approach that BMW is using for a range-extender for its little city car, the i3 REx, albeit with a rotary, rather than conventional piston engine. Once the batteries are drained, the Wankel will fire up to keep the car rolling until the driver can stop for a recharge.
The range-extender approach is somewhat different from a plug-in hybrid in several ways. First, the vehicle is expected to run solely in electric mode unless and until the batteries are drained. And, even then, the internal combustion engine serves solely as a generator, providing power to drive the vehicle’s electric motor. It never delivers torque directly to the wheels.
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Such an approach would be the best application of the rotary, observers suggest. The engine simply isn’t very efficient when operating in the constantly changing power demand cycles of a conventional automobile. But it becomes for more efficient when running at a relatively steady speed, as happens with a generator.