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Mazda Rotary Engine Returning on MX-30

After years of speculation that Mazda would someday bring back rotary-powered performance, the company is finally willing to confirm that our collective hope was not in vain. However, there will be no rear-drive RX model spinning up its triangular Wankel beyond 8,000 rpm because piston-free rotary engines are difficult to seal. Despite making oodles of power for their size, they’re not well optimized for everyday driving and tend to offer the kind of fuel economy and emissions that get regulators’ panties in a twist.

Given the circumstances, Mazda’s rotary will be returning as a range extender for the MX-30 PHEV.  

According to Automotive News, the manufacturer has confirmed that the rotary assisted crossover will be making its way to North America sometime next year. This meshes well with months of rumors and makes sense considering the rather severe range limitations of the all-electric model. The Mazda MX-30 EV’s 35.5-kilowatt-hour battery is limited to just 100 miles of EPA-estimated range. However, we’ve seen tests showing the figure is likely only to be reached under the most idyllic of conditions, limiting its appeal.

Adding a range extender allows Mazda to field the plug-in MX-30 in parts of the United States that aren’t California and forgoes the need to toss in a significantly larger (and heavier) battery pack. It’s basically the company’s only option if it’s serious about sales volume in North America and hardly front-page news considering Mazda had been discussing its development for years.

From Automotive News:

Talk of deploying an updated rotary in the MX-30 has swirled since the vehicle debuted at the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show. Mazda Motor Corp. toyed with using it in a range extender that would have gone on sale in the first half of the fiscal year started April 1.

But Mazda opted for a plug-in variant. That allows it to further reduce the size and cost of the battery, compared with a range extender. But the engine would operate more frequently.

The rotary plug-in version of the MX-30 will debut in the second half of the current fiscal year ending March 31, 2023. It will be introduced in the U.S. and Japan in sequence, a spokesman said.

Having discontinued rotary engines in 2012 with the death of the RX-8, Mazda revived the technology the following year as a 0.33-liter prototype range extender fitted to a Mazda2 that had been converted to an all-electric powertrain. If you’re wondering why a company would go this route to boost efficiency when Wankel rotary engines are famous for being so thirsty and dirty, you’re not alone. However, Mazda had previously suggested that using one as a generator would allow it to run at its most optimal speed by avoiding low RPMs. Rotaries also don’t tend to produce much vibration, potentially making Mazda’s range extender less noticeable than generators using a traditional piston arrangement.

They likewise offer excellent power for their size. Speaking with suppliers, Nikkei Asia said the unit could effectively double the electrified MX-30’s range. But that remains to be seen and we’ve watched other generator-supported EVs flop.

“This is the most Mazda-like initiative in their electrification strategies, and the market is looking at how it will contribute to the sales volume,” said analyst Eiji Hakomori of Daiwa Securities.

Even if this ends up becoming a failure for Mazda, it’s nice to see them trying something unique while figuring out a way to keep the rotary motor relevant. We should have an idea of pricing later this year. Though, if history is anything to go by, EVs equipped with a range extender typically retail for a few grand more than their non-hybrid equivalent.

[Images: Mazda]

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