Mazda’s rotary engine is coming sooner than expected, but not powering a sports car. Speaking to Automotive News, Mitsuo Hitomi, Mazda’s global powertrain boss, said that the rotary engine will become a range extender for the automaker’s upcoming electric vehicle.
During a technology preview in Japan, Hitomi said to Automotive News that a rotary engine is ideal as a range extender because it’s small, powerful and doesn’t generate much vibration. Mazda’s first EV is expected to hit the market alongside a hybrid in 2019. Akira Kyomen, program manager for vehicle development, revealed that there will be two variants of the EV, pure electric and one with a range extender. Japan, Europe and China will be the key target markets for the pure EV as Mazda believes these type of vehicles can get by with less range. In North America, on the other hand, the range extender is a necessity because consumer have longer daily drives, according to Kyomen. Along with the two-model strategy for its EV, Mazda has developed a new vehicle platform that will also debut in 2019 and it’s been engineered with EV and hybrid powertrains in mid.
Hitomi also revealed that a second, larger, more powerful rotary engine is also under development. This unit is expected to power a high performance sports car in the future that will slot above the Mazda MX-5 Miata. However, Hitomi told Automotive News that the main issue remains making a business case for the vehicle and whether the automaker will be able to sell enough cars.
Originally introduced in the Cosmo Sport, the rotary engine first appeared in a Mazda vehicle in 1967 and powered a number of sports cars including the third-generation RX-7, which featured a 1.3-liter two-rotor unit with sequential twin-turbocharging. Mazda remains the only Japanese automaker to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans and it did it using the rotary-powered 787B race car.