Mazda built its last rotary-engined RX-8 sports car in June, marking the end of 45 years of rotary engine production.
At the time, we reported that some company officials had suggested a new rotary might find use as a range-extender for a plug-in hybrid vehicle, along the lines of the Chevrolet Volt. Now it seems that possibility has become a certainty.
Speaking at this week's Moscow auto show, Mazda CEO, Takashi Yamanouchi said the company plans to launch an extended-range vehicle with a rotary engine as early as next year.
The rotary is ideally suited for such an application, given its compact dimensions and smooth, almost vibration-free operation.
In such a limited operating environment, where its only task is to drive an electric generator, it can operate at a near-constant speed where efficiency is optimized, thus side-stepping the rotary's Achilles heel of high fuel consumption in conventional operation.
In an interview with the British magazine, Autocar, Yamanouchi said, "The rotary has very good dynamic performance, but if you accelerate and brake a lot there are efficiency disadvantages. The range extender overcomes that. We can keep it spinning at its most efficient (speed of) 2,000 rpm."
Yamanouchi didn't reveal what vehicle model would get the range-extender treatment or precisely when.
He did say the company continues to explore ways to improve the rotary's fuel efficiency with the goal of once again making it a vehicle's primary powerplant.